Glenn urinates in space

By John Pickering 23/02/2012

Well, it could have been the headline around the world 50 years ago.  One of my prized possessions is a copy of NASA’s report on the “First United States Manned Orbital Space Flight” which John Glenn flew 50 years ago this week.  The flight lasted about 5 hours, but that was plenty long enough for the NASA scientists to collect a bag of urine.  This may not seem exciting, but given they didn’t even know if he could pee normally, it was significant.

The report states:

“The inflight urine collection device contained 800 cubic centimeters of clear, straw-colored urien with a specific gravity of 1.016, pH 6.0, and was negative microscopically and for blood, protein, glucose and acetone.  This volume of urine was passed just prior to the retrosequence; bladder sensation and function while weightless was normal and unchanged from that of the customary 1g, group environment” (my italics)

Well, that was a relief…not being able to pee in space could have put an end to NASA’s plans to put someone on the moon.  Alternatively, Armstrong’s first words may have been….”That’s one small step for… dang I’m busting, hold on a minute……ahhhhhh…now, where was I?”  As it happens, it appears that Buzz Aldrin who accompanied Neil Armstrong that day was the first to pee on the moon.  In his book “Magnificent Desolation” (Bloomsbury 2009) he says as he paused coming down Eagles’s ladder after missing a rung: “I decided this would be an excellent opportunity to relieve the nervousness in my bladder.”

Back to John Glenn.  His success in urinating opened the door to exploring the far reaches of space.  It also cost NASA many millions as they never seem to have managed to design a toilet to work in the absence of gravity!

If anyone wants to read NASA’s report it is available in pdf format here:  Here are a few excerpts:

The report
Urine data
Mercury schematic
Lift off
John Glenn

Tagged: History, Research, Space