Houston, We Have A Poopy
Seems there's always been a certain fascination among casual NASA observers as to how astronauts take care of 'business' whilst aloft. Come to think of it, the concern extends even further back: apparently the first question King George V asked Lindbergh after he landed was, "How did you pee?" The answer was left somewhere on the shoulders of the Frenchmen that hoisted the lad from St. Louis above the adoring crowd. I guess Thirty-plus hours in the air turns anyone into a pants-wetter.
Aah, the glamorous life of the brave young men and their flying machines.
When the shuttle takes orbit today, the crew uses a multi-million dollar gadget that resembles a normal toilet. No water is involved (as things would likely float away and into the nooks and crannys of some critical keyboard). Instead, the commode uses spinning blades (YIKES!) to FLING whatever you've... um, discarded... into the void. Sorta the Benihana of B.M.'s.
If you want really fun potty-time action, you have to go back to the height of the 1960's space race.
In the beginning, space shots were simple, half-day affairs. Original engineers and mission planners never considered that astronauts would have a need to void. Alan Shephard's first flight was nearly cancelled because he literally peed himself.
Astronauts lay in a head-slightly-lower-than-their-legs attitude on the launch pad, and all of Shephard's urine immediately rolled down towards his helmet and completely soaked his back. The temperature spike threatened to overload his spacesuit's cooling controls. After "Operation Let 'Er Rip," Shephard reported back to Mission Control in his best Jose Jimenez accent, "Now I really am a wet back."
After Shephard, NASA provided the astronauts with a urine control device. It was a simple contraption that consisted of a collection bag, rubber tube (that ran down the astronaut's leg), and a condom. Originally the condoms were categorized as small, medium or large.
The astronauts didn't care for the labeling, and most went for the ones marked, "large." Suffice it to say, there were a lot of leaks. In time, management readjusted the way condoms were categorized. The new system carried only, "Large, Extra Large or, Double-Extra Large."
Later, astronauts were hooked directly to a tube that vented directly to the vacuum of space. When a valve was opened, everything was sucked out into the ether. Astronauts say it was a unique feeling-- the gentle tug they felt was a reminder that they were connected to the universe in a way unlike anyone else.
The real trouble on orbit came when astronauts found themselves having to do a "Number Two."
Gemini and Apollo spacecraft were pretty tight confines. Privacy was non-existent. It's reported that frogmen actually fell backwards after opening the hatch on Gordon Cooper's Gemini 8 mission. After 191 hours aloft, the stench was that bad.
Defecating was a bit of acrobatics. First you had to strip completely naked (including your rings and watches because you never knew what would happen). Then you attached a plastic bag (lined with an adhesive flap) to your bottom... and then WENT. Remember: the astronaut is floating... the bag is floating... and, that's right, so is the feces. Niiiiice image. There are stories that on one mission, a stool went commando. Imagine the panic. Sorta like the Baby Ruth-In-The-Pool scene from Caddyshack.
It's rumored that Apollo 8's Bill Anders was so freaked by this incident, he gave himself a mega-dosing of Immodium for his 'round-the-moon shot in 1968. Watch the footage, post landing, on the deck of the recovery ship: He's WADDLING. Anders still holds the longest No-Bowl-Movement record: three quarters of a million miles without a poop.