Due to an issue with SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule, astronauts returning to Earth from the International Space Station in October will not have access to a bathroom.
Instead, NASA’s Shane Kimbrough (NASA) and Megan McArthur, French astronaut Thomas Pesquet (European Space Agency), and Akihiko Hoshide (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency) will have to rely solely on ‘undergarments,’ to manage waste while aboard Endeavour capsule. This was Steve Stich, NASA Commercial Crew Program manager, said to reporters at an October 29 press conference.
Stich stated, “Our intention is to not use any system for the return leg home because we’ve seen what fluids we are discussing.”
Space.com notes that astronauts frequently use the undergarments to remove themselves from spacesuits during launches, landings, or spacewalks.
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The toilet aboard SpaceX’s Inspiration4 spacecraft malfunctioned last month. This caused urine to leak from the capsuleNASA’s Shane Kimbrough (NASA) and Megan McArthur (European Space Agency).
Engineers first noticed the trouble with the SpaceX capsule toilet design after civilians Jared Isaacman, Sian Proctor, Haley Arceneaux and Christopher Sembroski returned from their historic three-day journey around the Earth aboard the SpaceX Resilience capsule in September, the first all-tourist trip into space.
SpaceX crew members discovered the alarm was set off during re-entry. But it wasn’t until the vessel was back on Earth, that the signal indicated that urine had pooled underneath the floor panels. This was after a tube from the toilet was unplugged.
They solved the problem by welding on a tube for flushing urine to the toilet that was attached to the capsule.
The flaw was also detected on Endeavour capsule, which flew SpaceX Crew-2 mission to the ISS in late April. Endeavour is currently docked at the orbiting laboratory.
The same issue was detected with the toilet on the Endeavour capsule, which will be bringing the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency’s Akihiko Hoshide (left), French astronaut Thomas Pesquet of the European Space Agency and NASA’s Shane Kimbrough and Megan McArthur back to Earth later this month. Therefore, the crew will have no access to the lavatory and will have to wear ‘undergarments’ for waste management.
Astronauts found the same tube unglued and urine evidence leaking into the floor panels. But they have limited resources and cannot make the repairs to Endeavor’s lavatory.
Crew-2 astronauts were expected back to Earth this week, but that may be delayed due to weather delays for the October 31 Crew-3 mission. (A rescheduled Wednesday launch was also scuttled because of a ‘minor medical issue’ affecting a crewmember, NASA said.)
William Gerstenmaier, SpaceX vice president, stated that the Inspiration4 team didn’t notice the issue until after they returned to Earth.
Gerstenmaier stated that he saw contamination under the floor when he returned the vehicle to his family.
Isaacman claims that no bodily fluids were found in the capsule.
CNN’s he stated that he was 100% certain that there were no issues in the cabin.
The toilet started leaking urine after a tube was unplugged and it pooled underneath the floor panels. SpaceX has since fixed this issue by welding a urine flush tube to the toilet. However, the Endeavour is still moored on the ISS and cannot yet be repaired.
Crew-3 was a mission that sent a new set of astronauts to International Space Station Sunday. They used a different capsule, called the Endurance.
The toilet system is identical to the Resilience capsule’s, but the Endurance received the same repair to prevent any further urine leakage.
SpaceX conducted ground tests to verify that the Endeavour’s design is not compromised by the urine leakage.
Gerstenmaier stated that he would double-check things, triple-check things and had a few more samples to pull out of the chambers and inspect. “But we’ll still be available to go and make certain the crew is safe to come back.”
Stitch stated that “the Inspiration4 flight really was a gift for us,” for alerting crew about the issue.
Shortly after Inspiration4, which consisted of Jared Isaacman (left), SianProctor (right), Haley Arceneaux (second left) and Christopher Sembroski (second right), returned to Earth, reports surfaced claiming that an alarm went off during the four-member orbit. Later, it was determined that the alarm was caused by a malfunctioning toilet.
Elon Musk announced in September that SpaceX’s next space tourism flight would include an “upgraded toilet”.
In a September 21 Twitter, SpaceX CEO John SpaceX referred to the “challenges” with the toilet aboard the modified Crew Dragon module that launched Inspiration4 into space for a three day trip.
Musk didn’t go into detail about the issue with the toilet at that time.
Elon Musk, SpaceX CEO, tweeted that upgraded toilets were needed following the flight of Inspiration 4. He said, “We had some challenges with this flight.”
Jared Isaacman (38 years old) was the commander of the mission. He previously stated that the toilet provided a great view over space.
Isaacman stated to Insider that it doesn’t offer much privacy. “But, you do have this privacy curtain that cuts across top of spacecraft so you can sort of separate yourself from everybody else.”
“And that also happens where the glass cupolas are.” You know what that means? When people have to go to the bathroom, they will have a spectacular view.
This isn’t a first bathroom misadventure that ISS astronauts have had. Back in 2019, the crew rushed for plumbing repairs after a bulging drain was disconnected from the sink. It drenched the scientists with more than 2 gallons of water.
The down-to Earth problem was when the astronauts tried to put an enclosure around their on-board toilet to provide privacy.
This unfortunate mishap forced scientists to resort to using towels to absorb the microgravity-forming spherical beads.
They were all gathered in the bathroom to put the extra stall up.
According to NASA, approximately 2.5 gallons were lost before the bus was evacuated by MCC-H flight control crews.
“The crew quickly re-mated the QD that was leaking and soaked up the water with towels.
Although water forms in microgravity in spherical balls in microgravity, it is not clear if the water came out at high or low pressure.
Former NASA astronaut Tom Jones told The Atlantic that if it was a slow leak it would have formed into a large, undulating blob which would have drifted off or crept along a wall with surface tension.
“If it was at a higher pressure and was coming out at an extremely fast rate, it would spray and cause droplets to fly across the cabin.”
North Grumman launched the Cygnus capsule in October 2020. It carried a highly publicized $23 Million toilet to the ISS.
The Universal Waste Management System (UWMS), a zero-gravity toilet, was designed to better accommodate female anatomy than existing space lavatories.