Space Programme

To boldly go…

A Chinese inventor gets to the bottom of outer space’s most serious problem

Who wants to go next: China pioneers a revolutionary space lavatory

Technology should be there to serve mankind’s most basic needs, even in outer space. Enter Jin Xukai, an inventor who is likely to join the ranks of other toilet visionaries such as Alexander Cummings, George Jennings and Thomas Crapper.

Jin, like many Chinese, was filled with pride when China launched Shenzhou-6 in 2005 – the nation’s second manned space flight. However, he was also intrigued by the astronauts’ toiletary difficulties – they could only use the toilet in the orbital module, and it wasn’t very comfortable. The inventor decided a bottom-up approach was required to solve the problem. His newly invented device, which is inserted into the posterior, offers a new way of dealing with solid human waste in zero gravity environments.

The product – which China says it will take on its next manned space mission, Shenzhou-8 – is about the size of a one litre bottle, and after a full charge can be used 30 to 35 times. Almost four years in the making, his (literally translated) In-body Spiral Excavator Space Toilet, costs only Rmb10,000 ($1,460) per unit, and will be manufactured in Guangdong.

Jin told the Guangzhou Daily his device is a big improvement on the space toilets in use today, which require the astronauts to sit on a seat and deliver with a high degree of accuracy – or else face what he terms vividly “floating accidents”.

Jin had problems finding enough people to participate in the literally thousands of trials for the invention. “It is easier for other products, but most people were reluctant to lend their bowels for our tests,” he ruefully laments.

He is adamant his product does no harm to the human body. In fact, he offers Guangzhou Daily readers more detail than anyone would probably want to know about the average diameter of human orifices.

This is no one-off invention for Jin. He has more than 80 patents under his belt. His other inventions include a portable, foldable bathtub. Born in 1993 and hailing from Chongli Town, Sichuan, he was recently voted one of China’s top 10 migrant workers.


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