Providing the Necessities of Life During Space Travel - Life Support Systems, the Space Toilet and the COLBERT Treadmill Aboard the International Space Station

Providing the Necessities of Life During Space Travel - Life Support Systems, the Space Toilet and the COLBERT Treadmill Aboard the International Space Station
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Waste Collection System

Aboard spacecraft and the International Space Station, the waste collection system is one of the most important aspects of life in space. Also known as the space toilet, the system is responsible for providing the necessities of life during space travel, namely the removal of human waste from the body and its safe storage until it can be brought back to Earth. The space toilet uses a vacuum to help remove liquids and solid waste. The air used in the process is then filtered and recirculated into the vehicle. Likewise, the liquid is filtered and turned back into drinking water. All solid waste is exposed to the vacuum of space to kill bacteria. During periods of resupply, the waste material is packaged and sent back to Earth aboard a spacecraft.

Above right: Space Toilet. (Supplied by NASA; Public Domain;

Eating Food in Space

ISS Space Food On A Tray

The process of providing the necessities for life during space travel may be summarized no more easily than by analyzing the way astronauts and cosmonauts eat while in space. All food that is consumed in space must meet specific standards in order to provide nutrition as well as meet the appropriate standards for consumption within a zero gravity environment. Additionally, all food preparation must consume as little energy as possible and produce very little waste.

During the early days of space travel, most food was considered tasteless with bad texture. Today, the food that astronauts and cosmonauts bring with them aboard spacecraft and onto the International Space Station is carefully planned by nutritionists. According to NASA, the most popular food is spicy since much of the food is rather bland in its base form. Some of the foods that were used aboard space mission have become popular with civilians, notably Tang and freeze-dried ice cream.

Above left: Space Food on a Tray. (Supplied by NASA; Public Domain;

Preventing the Negative Effects of Weightlessness


Providing the necessities of life during space travel includes maintaining the proper health of astronauts through exercise. Without activity, a zero gravity environment of weightlessness will cause detrimental effects on the overall health of the people aboard the International Space Station for long periods of time. Bone density and muscle strength weakens. To combat this fact, astronauts are required to perform daily regimens of exercise.

The most notable tool to accomplish this is the Treadmill with Vibration Isolation System, brought aboard the station in 2009 with the Tranquility node. Known as the Combined Operational Load Bearing External Resistance Treadmill or COLBERT, the exercise device allows astronauts to work out without causing vibration aboard the station. The COLBERT was named after comedian Stephen Colbert after his last name was chosen by NASA enthusiasts in a contest.

Above right: COLBERT patch. (Supplied by NASA; Public Domain;

Life Support System

Space Station Cycle

While in space, maintaining oxygen levels and adequate atmospheric pressure is one of the most important aspects of safe space travel. The Environmental Control and Life Support System meets these needs aboard the International Space Station and is one of the most advanced systems ever designed to keep humans alive in a unique environment.

Air pressure aboard spacecraft is kept as close as possible to that of sea level on Earth, approximately 14.7 psi. This has been found to be the most comfortable for astronauts and decreases the risk of fires that is caused by a pure oxygen environment. All air is also monitored for correct levels of nitrogen, oxygen, carbon dioxide, methane, dihydrogen and water vapor. A revitalization system removes contaminates while oxygen and hydrogen is produced from water. Environmental controls also are responsible for removing methane produced by the astronaut’s intestines and ammonia created from sweat. The system uses charcoal filters to accomplish this.

Above left: Space Station Life Support Cycle. (Supplied by NASA; Public Domain;

Overall Reasons to Design Space Systems

Without these different systems aboard spacecraft such as the International Space Station providing the necessities for life during space travel, there would be no way for humans to perform in the environment of space. Although these devices have gone through different designs over the years and will undoubtedly continue to advance, the fact that NASA and other space agencies have come as far as they have allows for the continued manned exploration of space.


“Space Food” NASA:

“Breathing Easy in Space” NASA:

“Life Support Systems in Space” NOVA:

“Colbert Treadmill” Huffington Post:

This post is part of the series: The Space Suit and Other Equipment for Astronauts

Since the dawn of the space program, the need for space suit design to protect astronauts and cosmonauts was a necessity. NASA focused its early attempts on the Apollo mission, but as new reasons for space travel were adopted the space suits changed with the times.

  1. Space Suit Parts: Protective Gloves for the Apollo Space Suit and More
  2. Space Suits: Past, Present and Future
  3. Providing the Necessities for Life During Space Travel