Go­ing for boe­ing

Popular Science - - TALES FROM THE FIELD - KAVYA MANYAPU, FLIGHT CREW OP­ER­A­TIONS AND FLIGHT TEST ENGI­NEER AT BOE­ING as told to Sara Cho­dosh

Boe­ing’s Star­liner space cap­sule is sup­posed to start fer­ry­ing as­tro­nauts to the In­ter­na­tional Space Sta­tion in 2018. I’ve worked on the pro­gram for a lit­tle more than six years. My main job is to make sure the craft and the space suit we’re de­sign­ing work well to­gether. Some­times that means I get to test it out for my­self.

One of the first things I worked on was waste man­age­ment— specif­i­cally, fig­ur­ing out how as­tro­nauts will re­lieve them­selves when they’re stuck in the suit, ei­ther on the launch­pad or while wait­ing to reach or­bit. Ini­tially we tried out a sys­tem, worn like un­der­wear, that can wick waste flu­ids from the body. We didn’t know if it could pump all the urine it cap­tured into a bag and keep it there so it didn’t spill all over the cap­sule, or leave as­tro­nauts soggy.

My boss in­vited me to par­tic­i­pate in the test. He knew I’d be ex­cited, but I didn’t quite know what I was get­ting into. I had to pre­tend to pee in space. To do that, I put the un­der­wear with the pump and the bag on un­der­neath my reg­u­lar clothes. Then I had to re­cline, as if I were seated in Star­liner. So I’m sit­ting there in my work clothes—along with my boss, who was serv­ing as the male test sub­ject—and the engi­neer run­ning the show was just like: “Go. Pee.” I said, “I can’t look at you and just start pee­ing!”

But I did. I ac­tu­ally had to do it three times—back to back. We had to make sure the sys­tem would hold up if as­tro­nauts were stuck in the cap­sule dur­ing a launch de­lay. I drank a lot of wa­ter that day.

At my job, we all do un­usual things in the name of test­ing. They’re the kinds of things you wouldn’t do at any other job. It’s def­i­nitely fun.

Luck­ily, the pump worked and kept me clean and dry. But I had brought an ex­tra pair of work clothes. Just in case.

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