How NASA Astronauts Changed the Way Diapers Are Used

Astronauts cannot use the restroom during a space walk. NASA developed several ways to deal with this problem in the history of the space program. The first designs catered to the needs of male astronauts. The single gender design did not create a problem. Female astronauts did not enter the space program until 1978. The previous designs did not adapt well to female use. Therefore NASA decided on a diaper-like garment that both male and female astronauts could wear during liftoff, takeoff, and during walks. The result was the maximum absorbency garments.

The maximum absorbency garments are adult diapers that are issued for space shuttle missions. The garments made headlines when Lisa Nowak drove 900 miles to assault Colleen Shipman. The press claimed that Nowak wore the space program’s garment during the entire trip to avoid a pit stop. The media attention is a small matter, the technology used by NASA has been adapted to terrestrial applications. Wellness Briefs used many of the materials used in the space program’s solution, although the garments are not designed to survive trips for thousands of miles.

The astronauts usually time their landings and spacewalks to avoid defecating into the garment. The Wellness briefs use the same multi-layered design to provide comfort to the wearer. Both the maximum absorbency garments and the Wellness Brief use sodium polyacrylate. Sodium polyacrylate can absorb up to 800 times its weight in water. The materials absorption capabilities make it desirable for use in adult diapers.

Adult diapers were introduced in the 1980s as a way of dealing with adult incontinence. The first brands to enter the market did not use the same materials that NASA would later use in what became known as the Mags. The technology developed for the space program was quickly adopted by the makers of incontinence products. It worked better. The chemical reduces the frequency of changes and reduces the risk of leaks. The briefs are thin enough to conceal the fact that the user is wearing a Wellness Brief.

But making less changes and staying dry the Wellness Brief is the perfect example of space age technology used for the better of mankind.


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