Avenue 5's Orbiting Poop Shield Is Rooted In Real Science [Exclusive]

The HBO comedy series "Avenue 5" is coming back with a second season on October 10, 2022. Along with it comes the glittering cloud of poop that orbits the ship. If you haven't watched yet (and you absolutely should), you probably want an explanation for that. In the series, which is set 40 years in the future, a group of people are on an eight-week space cruise on the Avenue 5, a ship owned by a billionaire (Josh Gad). A technical mishap stretches their trip to 3.5 years, and needless to say, things are a mess. 

The real crew is shoved in a dark room below the bridge, and the crew that the passengers see around the ship are actually actors, including Hugh Laurie as Captain Ryan. A rescue by NASA isn't possible, because it's too expensive, and things are starting to break on the vessel. That includes a giant tube that holds human waste in a shield around the ship. Though Ryan and friends manage to block the leak, a whole bunch of poop has begun to orbit the Avenue 5, which has its own gravitational pull. So the poop is orbiting along with the coffins of some people who have died.

What does our billionaire do? Well, he lights it up and makes it sparkle. It's fancy poop now! As for why it's there in the first place, it's to protect the ship from the radiation of space! It turns out the poop cloud is actually rooted in real science, according to an interview we recently conducted with Hugh Laurie ("House," "Veep") and series creator Armando Iannucci ("Veep"). 

Poop protection

I asked Iannucci about his research into the private space travel companies and their relationship with NASA. He said they looked into it "a little bit" and spoke to Space X and Virgin Atlantic:

"Hugh and I went round the jet propulsion laboratory in Pasadena. And we spoke to scientists and engineers really. We asked one, the episode in season one where human waste leaks out, was based on an answer one of them gave about long term, long distance space travel. Saying you're insulated from all the radioactivity with human waste. That's the solution. And we thought there's an episode there. 

It is one of the funniest things in the series, which is saying something. I'd always heard that radiation was the big problem we had to solve for long-distance space travel, and it appears that our own waste can offer protection! Iannucci also said that the coffins orbiting were rooted in science too, "The scientific advisor for 'Star Trek' says she did the math and said, 'Yes, no, that works.'" 

I had to know more (because you don't get to ask questions like this very often), so I reached out to the scientific advisor for "Star Trek" to ask how this all works. 

'Waste radiation shield'

Not only did Erin Macdonald, PhD Astrophysics and "Star Trek" scientific advisor, have an answer for us, but she made a whole video discussing the science of the show a while back (The discussion about what is called "the wet suit" begins at 56:00.) Is this gross? Absolutely. Is the science behind it kind of great? Yup! Macdonald said: 

"Yes, it absolutely could work. In fact, scientists have looked at creating a "waste radiation shield" for trips to Mars. Radiation in space is one of the biggest hazards for long-term space travel. Astronauts on the ISS are protected (mostly) from radiation due to them being in low earth orbit and thus somewhat within Earth's protective magnetic field. 

Traveling to Mars would mean months of exposure to radiation, and a waste shield is a great protector against that. The shield we would practically use, however, would likely not be orbiting the ship like in 'Avenue 5,' but rather encased within the ship's walls itself."

The wet suit was inside the ship before the episode, but now, well, people are seeing religious symbols in it as it orbits, or at least its sparkles. That's not all, though. It can also be dry like fertilizer. Macdonald explained:

"The water content of waste is a good protector, and the ISS has extra-protected sections that have layers of water. But dehydrated fecal matter (yay) would also protect from radiation, just even as a barrier to cosmic rays, giving them something more to hit."

It's also a resource that is, um, renewable on long voyages. 

Trust me when I say you should catch up with this show before the second season begins. It's hysterical!

"Avenue 5" returns to HBO and HBO Max on October 10, 2022.