WASHINGTON DC – A girl no older than 5, emboldened by her parents, ran from the audience Saturday (Aug. 13, 2011) at the Smithsonian American Art Museum and confronted the day’s guest speaker there with an innocent smile and a burning question. “In space,” the youngster asked U.S. astronaut Dr. Anna Lee Fisher, “how do you go pee-pee?”
“Well, I knew someone was going to ask!,” said Fisher, who laughed along with the crowd. “And it’s a very important question,” one, she explained, with two very different answers: diapers, and suction. “We practice with both a lot,” Fisher noted, “because in space you don’t want to make a mistake.”
A physician by training, Fisher was the featured attraction during an event-filled day at the museum, which showcased an exhibition on American innovation in its historic building on F Street NW in the nation’s capital. She spoke for a half-hour about her career and eight-day shuttle experiences during 1984, and her later work with the International Space Station, and then answered audience questions.
She never hesitated with what could have been an embarrassing inquiry by her young admirer.
On the launch pad, Fisher said, while waiting in a space shuttle for hours before lift-off, is where specially made flight diapers prove their worth. Mothers, she claimed, can thank scientists of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) for that modern convenience of child-raising.
“They made them with super-absorbent stuff for us first,” the astronaut proudly boasted, because after that length of time, no matter how empty a bladder may have been, “by then you just gotta go!”
Once in space, though, the diapers are abandoned. Then NASA – which has an abbreviation for everything, Fisher said – relies on sanitary plumbing known as the WMS, or Waste Management System. “It involves a vacuum. I’ll let your imagination take it from there,” she said, still smiling.
Although space shuttle flights have ended, Fisher said she remains involved in programs involving both the space station and the shuttle’s successor. One of her most recent assignments, she reported, was to participate in a panel taste-testing new meals to be added to the space station menu. They included sushi, for the station’s Japanese partners, and Russian dishes too.
Her verdict? “They’re pretty good.”
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