split image of astronaut in space and hikers on snowy mountain

Have you ever wondered how people go to the toilet in space? Or if it’s safe to have a pee in sub-zero temperatures at the South Pole?

Yeah, us too.

After we pondered how people go to the bathroom with the world’s longest fingernails, we’re back to shine a light on more toilet-based queries.

So, if you’ve always been too shy to ask how people manage their toilet breaks in the peculiar settings of outer space, the Arctic Circle or one of those tiny aeroplanes, then don’t worry, because we’ve asked for you.

Or at least, Guinness World Records Editor-in-Chief Craig Glenday has.

“It comes up naturally,” he insisted.

“We often host Q&As in the office with people who’ve done these sort of record challenges and the question inevitably comes up.

“We have astronauts and pilots and people who’ve cycled around the world come in, or people with the world’s longest fingernails and the tallest people in the world – you know, how does Sultan Kösen [the tallest man living] pee on a plane?

“It’s an interesting question to ask people who’ve done things like this.”

Here’s the lowdown…

Will your pee freeze at the South Pole?

Craig said: “Some record attempts can present a big problem in something as basic as going to the toilet because, you know, we probably don't think about it that much.

“But if you’re walking to the South Pole, can you just wee? Can you just turn to the side and just pee into the snow?

Lewis Clarke - the youngest person to ski to the South Pole

“Is it dangerous? Will it freeze?

“But also, is it safe to expose yourself to the elements when a cup of hot tea would freeze in a second?

“So, what happens to your wee? Do you snap it off and throw it away?”

This very topic came up when Craig interviewed Lewis Clarke (UK), the youngest person to ski to the South Pole (male).

He was 16 years 61 days old when he skied 1,123.61 km (698.8 mi) as part of a two-person expedition.

“And that question came up,” Craig said.

“And it’s the same answer a lot of the time - it's that you just do it carefully because you don't want any bit of flesh to be exposed for too long because any moisture can freeze over very quickly. Having your back to the wind helps!

“Oh, and in some parts of the Poles, there are rules about peeing in the pristine Antarctic snow – basically, don’t - so trekkers are encouraged to pee into a bottle from the relative safety of their tents... which is probably fine if you’re male but more of a challenge for women.

“As long as you don’t end up sticking to the bottle. Have you seen that scene in the movie Dumb and Dumber when Jeff Daniel sticks his tongue to the metal pole...?”

How do you go to the toilet in space?

It’s worth pondering how people do their business in zero gravity.

We’ve seen plenty of videos of astronauts floating around inside their living quarters, and many of us will have wondered how that all works up there.

“We did a whole feature on that in our Science & Stuff book, about the challenge of how you poo in space," Craig said.

Stock image: an astronaut in space

“There’s a great story that actually made it into a transcript from one of the early Apollo missions while the astronauts were chatting.

“They were just doing the reading of the instruments and taking data and then a little poo floated past and they're like, ‘Oh who did this?’ They could tell whose it was by the shape and texture.”

The incident took place while the record for fastest speed achieved by humans (39,937.7 km/h; 24,816.1 mph) was being set, meaning the conversation will forever be recorded in history.

The facilities on board the shuttle simply weren’t good enough and it wasn’t possible for them to eject their waste, leading to this unfortunate event.

“NASA quite recently had a competition to design a wearable space toilet suit,” Craig said.

Sounds like those could come in very handy.

Where do you go to the toilet on Everest?

Craig told us: “The problem they have is people just take their trousers down and squat and poo. So, Everest is covered in frozen human waste.”

In fact, there’s an estimated 8,000 kg of human waste left behind on Everest every year, and regular clean-up operations are held to try and keep it looking tidy.

Stock image: hikers on a snowy mountain

The largest clean-up on Everest ever was held between 14 April and 29 May 2019 when a total of 10,386 kg (22,897 lb) of garbage was collected, although it’s not clear how much of that was trash and how much was… other things.

Craig added: “If you're being nice about it, you would basically have a pooper scooper.

“You know, a doggy bag thing to keep it in so that you're not leaving anything behind. There’s even been talk recently of making this a legal requirement – you might soon have to bring your poo back down. Or in the case of most of these Everest climbers, have someone else carry it for you!”

How do you go to the toilet in a long-distance aircraft?

Craig admits he was a little shocked when this subject came up with Steve Fossett (USA), who has various aviation records, including the first circumnavigation by balloon solo, the longest duration flown by a balloon solo and longest non-stop flight by any aircraft.

Craig said: “When he did the longest solo flight around the world, I was there with his friend Richard Branson to meet him when he landed. Steve just came in for a hug and of course, when he's flying around the world in this tiny little cockpit, he just has to pee himself.”

The plane Steve Fossett used to set world records

Craig explained with no room for a toilet on board, and with journeys typically lasting relatively short periods, the pilots just relieve themselves where they sit, knowing it won’t be long before they disembark and can wash. “Pee bottles are an option, I guess, but in those really cramped conditions – you can hardly move in these tiny cockpits – you can see why it might be tempting to just let loose into your flight suit.”

“And what they do is they control their diet, so in the days beforehand they go on a very low-solid diet so they're not having to risk anything at that end,” Craig added.

How does the world’s tallest man pee on a plane?

The inside of an aeroplane isn’t much taller than the average person, so they’re definitely not big enough for the world’s tallest man Sultan Kösen – who measures 251 cm (8 ft 2.8 in) - to stand up straight.

That certainly poses a problem when he needs to go to the bathroom during a flight.

So what did he do when the need arose?

Sultan Kösen with an adjudicator

“He couldn’t fit in the cubicle,” Craig explained.

“So, Sultan just had to use his big feet to prop the door open - while the cabin crew all took their jackets off and formed a privacy barrier around him.

“He then just peed from the corridor outside the toilet and did his best to make as little mess as possible.”

Who would have thought going to the toilet could be so tricky?

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