On May 5, 1961, barely three weeks after Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin's historic orbit of the Earth, NASA astronaut Alan Shepard waited, strapped into the Freedom 7 spacecraft. He would become the first American in space. What NASA officials hadn't anticipated was that Shepard would have to endure five hours of delay cocooned in his shiny silver spacesuit before his 15-minute orbit.

"Man, I got to pee," he frantically radioed launch control. Allowing Shepard to urinate in his suit would destroy the medical sensors he was wired with, but eventually launch control had no option but to let him go. Shepard had to suffer the discomfort of a wet suit till the cooling system inside evaporated the liquid.

Early efforts

NASA hadn't solved the problem entirely even in 1963 when Gordon Cooper blasted off on the last Project Mercury flight. There was a urine collection device inside the suit, but the urine leaked out of the bag and the droplets seeped into the electronics, leading to a systems failure towards the end of the mission.

If wayward pee was a problem, think of what its twin, poop, could do in the cramped quarters of a spacecraft!

The Gemini project was launched to prepare men for the Apollo moon mission. In 1965, Jim Lovell and Frank Borman spent 14 days flying in Gemini 7, the longest manned mission at the time. They had to poop into a cylindrical plastic bag and add a substance to kill the bacteria and odours. Though the pee could be sent out directly into space through a valve-operated hose, the poo bags had to be stored in the craft till they landed.

By the time the Apollo missions came around, the system hadn't improved much. The Moon men's toilet ordeal lasted 45 minutes to an hour. They had to undress completely in a corner of the spacecraft and stick a faecal collection bag to their bottom. Low gravity meant that the poop wouldn't fall down. The astronauts had to manually help it along with a finger cot, a glove-like covering for a single finger. They also had to knead a germicide into it to prevent the growth of gas-forming bacteria that could cause the bags to explode.

Hit and miss

Accidents did happen. Houston once heard the commander of the 1969 Apollo 10 mission Tom Stafford say, "Give me a napkin quick. There's a turd floating through the air!"

On the first Space Shuttle mission in 1981, astronauts had to unclog smelly blocked toilets. Frozen urine ejected from the Russian Mir space station, damaged the station's solar panels over time, reducing their effectiveness by around 40%.

Today, on the International Space Station (ISS), each astronaut is given his or her own funnel for peeing. It attaches to a hose. Urine is sent through a filtration system and recycled into drinking water. There is a proper sit down toilet for more serious business. The waste is sucked into a canister, which is stored and later shot back towards Earth along with other trash, where it burns up in the atmosphere.

Did you know?

Astronauts go through 'positional training' on Earth to perfect their aim since the toilet on the ISS has a narrow opening. The mock toilet has a camera at the bottom. Astronauts don't actually go, but watch a video screen in front of them to check that their alignment is spot on. The toilet costs millions of dollars, so missing the target is not an option.

 During a spacewalk or an EVA (extravehicular activity), astronauts wear a maximum absorbency garment, which is essentially a large diaper.

NASA'S 2020 Lunar Loo Challenge, which invited designs from the public for compact toilets that would work well in both microgravity and lunar gravity received tremendous response. The Artemis program plans to land a man and the first woman on the Moon by 2024.

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On August 8, 2007, space shuttle Endeavour’s STS-118 mission was successfully launched. Among the crew members was Barbara Morgan, the first teacher to travel into space. Barbara Morgan, in full Barbara Radding Morgan, (born Nov. 28, 1951, Fresno, Calif., U.S.), American teacher and astronaut, the first teacher to travel into space. Morgan earned a B.A. in human biology from Stanford University in Palo Alto, Calif., in 1973.

Among the many new things during the COVID-19 pandemic was the school classroom, or the lack of it. During the height of the pandemic in the last two years, students were often seen attending virtual classrooms from homes with the teachers conducting the classes from their houses.

A group of students in the U.S. experienced something similar 15 years ago. Only that their teacher, Barbara Morgan wasn't teaching virtually from the comfort of her home. Morgan was the first teacher to travel into space and she did do some teaching while in space!

Born in November 1951 in Fresno, California, Morgan obtained a B.A. in human biology from Stanford University in 1973. Having received her teaching credentials by the following year, she began her teaching career in 1974 in Arlee, Montana, teaching remedial reading and maths.

She taught remedial reading, maths, and second grade in McCall, Idaho from 1975-78, before heading to Quito in Ecuador to teach English and science to third graders for a year. Following her return to the U.S., she returned to McCall, Idaho, where she taught second through fourth grades at McCall-Donnelly Elementary School until 1998.

Teacher in Space

Morgan's tryst with space began in July 1985 when she was selected as the backup candidate for NASA's Teacher in Space programme. As the backup to American teacher Christa McAuliffe, Morgan spent the time from September 1985 to January 1986 attending various training sessions at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston. After McAuliffe and the rest of the crew died in the 1986 Challenger disaster, Morgan replaced McAuliffe as the Teacher in Space designee and worked with NASA's education division.

Morgan reported to the Johnson Space Center in August 1998 after being selected by NASA as a mission specialist and NASA's first educator astronaut. Even though Morgan didn't participate in the Educator Astronaut Project, the successor to the Teacher in Space programme, NASA gave her the honour of being its first educator astronaut.

Following two years of training and evaluation, Morgan was assigned technical duties. She worked in mission control as a communicator with in-orbit crews and also served with the robotics branch of the astronaut office.

Further delay

Even though she was assigned as a mission specialist to the crew of STS-118 in 2002 and was expected to fly the next year, it was delayed for a number of years following the 2003 Columbia disaster. It was on August 8, 2007 that Morgan finally flew into space on the space shuttle Endeavour on STS-118.

The STS-118 was primarily an assembly-and-repair trip to the International Space Station (ISS). The crew were successfully able to add a truss segment, a new gyroscope, and external spare parts platform to the ISS. Morgan served as loadmaster, shuttle and station robotic arm operator, and also provided support during the spacewalks. All this, in addition to being an educator.

Answers from space

For the first time in human history, school children enjoyed lessons from space, conducted by Morgan. Apart from speaking to the students while in space, she also fielded questions. For one question from a student on how fast a baseball will go in space, she even had another astronaut Clay Anderson throw the ball slowly before floating over to catch it himself. While that opened up the opportunity of playing ball with yourself while in space, she also informed the student that the ball can be thrown fast, but it is avoided in order to not cause any damage to the craft and the equipment on board.

Following the first lessons from space, the Endeavour returned to Earth on August 21 after travelling 5.3 million miles in space. Having carried 5,000 pounds of equipment and supplies to the ISS, it returned with 4,000 pounds worth of scientific materials and used equipment.

As for Morgan, she retired from NASA in 2008 to become the distinguished educator in residence at Boise State University. A post created exclusively for her, it entailed a dual appointment to the colleges of engineering and education. As someone who strongly believes that teachers are learners, she continues to teach and learn, be it from space, or here on Earth.

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On June 18, 1983, Sally K. Ride was onboard the space shuttle Challenger for the STS-7 mission, thereby becoming the first American woman to go into space. Apart from making two space flights, Ride championed the cause of science education for children.

The first decades of space exploration was largely dominated by two countries the US and the Soviet Union This period is even referred to as the Space Race as the two Cold War adversaries pitted themselves: against each other to achieve superior spaceflight capabilities.

While the two countries were neck and neck in most aspects. the Soviets sent a woman to space much before the US. Even though Valentina Tereshkova became the first woman in space in June 1963, it was another 20 years before Sally Ride became the first American woman in space

Urged to explore

Ride was the older of two daughters born  to Carol Joyce Ride and Dale Ride. Even though her mother was a counsellor and her father a professor of political science. Ride credits them for fostering her interest in science by enabling her to explore from a very young age.

An athletic teenager, Ride loved sports such as tennis, running, volleyball, and softball. In fact, she attended Westlake School for Girls in Los Angeles on a partial tennis scholarship. She even tried her luck in professional tennis, before returning to California to attend Stanford University.

By 1973, Ride not only had a Bachelor of Science degree in Physics, but had also obtained a Bachelor of Arts degree in English. She got her Master of Science degree in 1975 and obtained her Ph.D. in Physics by 1978

Restriction removed

Having restricted astronaut qualification to men for decades,  NASA expanded astronaut selection with the advent of the space shuttle from only pilots to engineers and scientists, opening the doorway for women finally. Having seen an ad in a newspaper inviting women to apply for the astronaut programme Ride decided to give it a shot

Out of more than 8,000 applications, Ride became one of six women who were chosen as an astronaut candidate in January 1978. Spaceflight training began soon after and it included parachute jumping, water survival, weightlessness, radio communications, and navigation, among others. She was also involved in developing the robot arm used to deploy and retrieve satellites.

Ride served as part of the ground-support crew for STS-2 and STS-3 missions in November 1981 and March 1982. In April 1982, NASA announced that Ride would be part of the STS-7 crew, serving as a mission specialist in a five-member crew.

First American woman in space

On June 18, 1983, Ride became the first American woman in space. By the time the STS-7 mission was completed and the space shuttle Challenger returned to Earth on June 24, they had launched communications satellites for Canada and Indonesia. As an expert in the use of the shuttle's robotic arm, Ride also helped deploy and retrieve a satellite in space using the robot arm.

Ride created history once again when she became the first American woman to travel to space a second time as part of the STS-41G in October 1984. During this nine-day mission, Ride employed the shuttle's robotic arm to remove ice from the shuttle's exterior and to also readjust a radar antenna. There could have even been a third, as she was supposed to join STS-61M, but that mission was cancelled following the 1986 Challenger disaster.

Even after her days of space travel were over, Ride was actively involved in influencing the space programme. When accident investigation boards were set up in response to two shuttle tragedies - Challenger in 1986 and Columbia in 2003 Ride was a part of them both.

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On May 15, 1963, the last mission of Project Mercury got under way. Astronaut Gordon Cooper closed out things in style as his flight stretched the capabilities of the Mercury spacecraft to its limits.

The Mercury Seven, also referred to as the Original Seven, were a group of seven astronauts selected to fly spacecraft for Project Mercury - the first human space flight program by the U.S. Even though there were some hiccups, the project, initiated in 1958, was largely successful in its three goals of operating a human spacecraft. investigating an astronaut's ability to work in space, and recovering spacecraft and crew safely.

Youngest of the Mercury Seven

The final flight of Project Mercury took place in May 1963. The youngest of the Original Seven, astronaut Gordon Cooper, went on to become the first American to fly in space for more than a day during this mission.

Leroy Gordon Cooper Jr. was born in 1927 and served in the Marine Corps in 1945 and 1946. He was commissioned in the U.S. Army after attending the University of Hawaii.

He was called to active duty in 1949 and completed pilot training in the U.S. Air Force. He was a fighter pilot in Germany from 1950 to 1954 and earned a bachelor's degree at the Air Force Institute of Technology in 1956. He served as a test pilot at Edwards Air Force Base in California until he was selected as an astronaut for Project Mercury. Cooper flew Mercury-Atlas 9, the last Mercury mission, which was launched on May 15, 1963. He called his capsule Faith 7, the number indicating his status as one of the Original Seven astronauts.

Conducts 11 experiments

 Longer than all of the previous Mercury missions combined. Cooper had enough time in his hands to conduct 11 experiments. These included monitoring radiation levels, tracking a strobe beacon that flashed intermittently, and taking photographs of the Earth.

When Cooper sent back black-and-white television images back to the control centre during his 17th orbit, it was the first TV transmission from an American crewed spacecraft. And even though there were plans for Cooper to sleep as much as eight hours, he only managed to sleep sporadically during portions of the flight. After 19 orbits without a hitch, a faulty sensor wrongly indicated that the spacecraft was beginning re-entry. A short circuit then damaged the automatic stabilisation and control system two orbits later. Despite these malfunctions and the rising carbon dioxide levels in his cabin and spacesuit. Cooper executed a perfect manual re-entry.

Lands without incident Cooper had clocked 34 hours and 20 minutes in space, orbiting the Earth 22 times and covering most of the globe in the process. This meant that he could practically land anywhere in the globe, a potential pain point that the U.S. State

Department was nervous about. In fact, on May 1, 1963, the country's Deputy Under Secretary fuel, venting gas that made the spacecraft roll, and more in what felt like a never-ending series during their eight-day mission. They, however, completed 122 orbits, travelling over 5.3 million km in 190 hours and 56 minutes, before safely making their way back to Earth.

After accumulating more than 225 hours in space, Cooper served as the backup command pilot of Gemini 12, which was launched in November 1966, and the backup command pilot for Apollo 10 in May 1969. By the time Cooper left NASA and retired from the Air Force in July 1970, human beings had set foot on the moon, further vindicating the Mercury and Gemini projects that Cooper had been involved with.

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The first woman to travel in space was Soviet cosmonaut, Valentina Tereshkova. On 16 June 1963, Tereshkova was launched on a solo mission aboard the spacecraft Vostok 6. She spent more than 70 hours orbiting the Earth, two years after Yuri Gagarin’s first human-crewed flight in space.

Tereshkova was born on 6 March 1937 in the village of Bolshoye Maslennikovo in central Russia. Her mother was a textile worker, and her father was a tractor driver who was later recognised as a war hero during World War Two. At the time of his death on the Finnish front, Tereshkova was only two years old. 

After leaving school, Tereshkova followed her mother into work at a textile factory. Her first appreciation of flying was going down rather than up when she joined a local skydiving and parachutist club. It was her hobby of jumping out of planes that appealed to the Soviets' space programme committee. On applying to the cosmonaut corps, Tereshkova was eventually chosen from more than 400 other candidates. 

Tereshkova received 18 months of severe training with the Soviet Air Force after her selection. These tests studied her abilities to cope physically under the extremes of gravity, as well as handle challenges such as emergency management and the isolation of being in space alone. At 24 years old, she was honourably inducted into the Soviet Air Force. Tereshkova still holds the title as the youngest woman, and the first civilian to fly in space. 

While Tereshkova remains the only woman to have flown solo in space, her mission was a dual flight. Fellow cosmonaut Valeriy Bykovsky launched on Vostok 5 on 14 June 1963. Two days later, Tereshkova launched. The two spacecraft took different flight paths and came within three miles of each other. The cosmonauts exchanged communications while making 48 orbits of Earth, with Tereshkova responding to Bykovsky via her callsign ‘Seagull’. During the flight, the Soviet state television network broadcast a video of Tereshkova inside the capsule, and she spoke with the Russian Premier Nikita Khrushchev over the radio. 

In her later life, Tereshkova was decorated with prestigious medals and has held several prominent political positions both for the Russian and global councils. Before the collapse of the Soviet Union, she was an official head of State and was elected a member of the World Peace Council in 1966. 

Today, she holds the position of Deputy Chair for the Committee for International Affairs in Russia. She also remains active within the space community and is quoted as suggesting that she would like to fly to Mars - even if it were a one-way trip. 

Credit : Royal  museums greenwich

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