apollo 1 crew nasaFrom left, Apollo 1 astronauts Virgil I. “Gus” Grissom, Edward White and Roger Chaffee pose in front of their Saturn 1 launch vehicle at Launch Complex 34 at the Kennedy Space Center.NASA

Astronauts may be exceptionally brave, intelligent, and accomplished, but they’re not superhuman: they still have to poop and pee when they leave Earth.

But as NASA was working to get the first humans into space in the early 60s, the agency didn’t focus much on how astronauts would empty their bladders and evacuate their bowels once they were up there.

Then in 1961, astronaut Alan Shepard — the first person in space — was forced to pee his pants on the launchpad. NASA quickly realized that the lack of planning presented a rather messy problem.

The agency needed a more serious bathroom-break plan, but solutions weren’t easy. After the Apollo missions ended in 1975, engineers described defecation and urination as the “bothersome aspects of space travel.” 

A variety of makeshift solutions have been sent into space, including pee bags, roll on “cuffs,” diapers, strappy toilet seats, and $19 million commodes. Contraptions for “going” while weightless have gotten a little more comfortable, and astronauts are now generally good at keeping waste from floating around.

But retired astronaut Peggy Whitson, who logged a record-breaking 665 days in space for NASA, recently said that going to the bathroom in space was her least favorite part of working in zero gravity. 

Here’s the full story of how astronauts have relieved themselves in space, from 1961 to now: