How Do Astronauts Dispose Of Garbage In Space?

Regardless of whether you’ve got big plans of becoming an astronaut one day or you’re simply interested in how they stay clean and sanitary up there in outer space - one of the biggest questions that you might be asking yourself when it comes to traveling among the stars is how they dispose of garbage!

This is a great question to ask, especially as it is something that many people tend to overlook. Sure, astronauts have their set meal plans and scheduled period of daily activities, but how do they go about safely disposing of all their trash while on their missions? Let’s uncover it all below:

As we’re sure that you’re already well aware, storage compartments and space aboard an International Space Station is a necessity that simply has to be maintained under all circumstances.

However, even though astronauts are typically well-organized and structured with their day-to-day tasks (especially given the fact that some space missions can be upwards of years) all astronauts will find themselves having to deal with one tedious task - getting rid of their trash!

Besides taking up limited room that could be used for a more productive purpose, the presence of trash in an astronaut’s vicinity can pose health and safety-related issues, including respiratory issues and more.

For this reason, it’s vital that all astronauts are making sure that they are disposing of their trash properly and on a regular basis, and that typically consists of temporarily storing it somewhere safe before then dumping it on a commercial supply vehicle, which is designed to come back down to earth where the trash can then be disposed of correctly.

However, as a side note, even though commercial supply vehicles are intended by NASA to come back down to earth after the astronauts have loaded them up with trash, this is not always the case as most commercial supply vehicles will not always be able to withstand the incredible heat exposure that occurs during entry of the earth’s atmosphere, which means that more often than not, most docked cargo ships will be turned to ashes before it is even able to get through our atmosphere.

It should also be noted that this method of trash removal is typically only used by astronauts that are in close enough proximity to the earth’s atmosphere for the vehicles to be able to enter the earth’s atmosphere.

Instead, for situations in which astronauts are traveling much further from home, the method for the trash removal is often a little bit different, and consists of the following:

When astronauts travel further into the solar system, they will typically keep their trash stored in compartments that equate to around 2 metric tons worth of garbage.

Once this limit has been reached, the astronauts aboard will then proceed to dispose of the trash by usually expelling it safely from the space station, where it will usually float through space until it gets close enough to Earth’s atmosphere to, essentially, burn up.

In addition to this method, another far more commonly used method of astronauts traveling some distance from earth is to dispose of the generated trash by piling it into a similar vehicle to the commercial supply vehicles, where they will then typically burn up into nothing at some point or another.

In addition to the above methods, you might also be interested in learning that NASA scientists are currently working on more helpful and efficient methods of garbage disposal, including the introduction of recycling in space over the coming years which will help to benefit further exploration in space and reduce overall wastage.

How Do Astronauts Dispose Of Waste In Space?

So, besides general trash - astronauts also need to get rid of their own waste, which can be a little more complicated than getting rid of standard, regular garbage.

Interestingly, given the fact that urine is made up of more than 90% of water, astronauts will recycle their own pee, as this helps to prevent astronaut’s having to take large amounts of clean water up into space with them - which then leads to them having more space to store other necessities. Pretty clever, right?

As for their poop, astronaut poop is typically burned while up in space. Wondering how this is safely achieved given the fact that fire and flammable material is a big no-no in space-related travel?

Well, after astronauts have finished, their waste (including toilet paper and anything else that they might have used to clean themselves) will be put into a safe container, and that container will then be transported into the cargo vehicle.

Then, after doing this, the cargo vehicle will then be sent out into space, where it will either re-enter the earth’s atmosphere so that it can be collected and disposed of, or burned up sooner or later while traveling through space.

What Do They Do With Garbage On The Space Station?

As we’re sure you might have already guessed, there isn’t a regular garbage truck that comes past the space station and picks up unwanted trash every week!

So, to get around that issue, unwanted astronaut garbage is typically disposed of inside a temporary holding vehicle, that will hold the garbage for a certain amount of time before being expelled into space - where it will either re-enter earth’s atmosphere and make it down to earth where NASA can locate it and get rid of it, or it will burn up attempting to enter earth’s atmosphere.

You might also be interested to learn that astronauts will only keep trash aboard their ship that equates to 2 metric tons, as there is only enough space to accommodate this amount of trash. Once this has been reached, the astronauts will then safely dispose of the trash and free up room for more. 

Gordon Watts