SpaceX Crew-2 astronauts can’t use space toilet on trip home

For example, if you’re traveling on a train and you’re desperate to use the bathroom and you find it out of order, that’s frustrating enough. But the same problem on a spacecraft? No, thank you.

Over the next few days, SpaceX’s Crew-2 astronauts will either have to cross their legs or pee in their spacesuits on the journey home from the International Space Station (ISS) because their Crew Dragon spacecraft’s toilet has a flaw that can’t. be rectified in space.

Fortunately, passing water won’t be a messy affair, as the astronauts will be wearing what NASA’s Commercial Crew Program manager Steve Stich recently described as “undergarments” — better known as adult diapers — that astronauts already use for long spacewalks. Here’s NASA astronaut Bob Behnken responding to a question about the delicate issue during a question-and-answer session on the ISS in 2020:

The existence of an error became apparent during SpaceX’s first all-civilian mission in September, when an alarm went off aboard another Crew Dragon spacecraft during its four-day orbital flight.

During a post-mission inspection on Earth, it was discovered that a tube carrying the urine to a storage tank under the floor of the Crew Dragon had come loose, causing the liquid to leak. Fortunately, the liquid didn’t make it into most of the capsule, where it could have caused a serious problem in microgravity.

The discovery of the design flaw prompted SpaceX to ask the Crew-2 astronauts — NASA’s Shane Kimbrough and Megan McArthur, plus the European Space Agency’s French astronaut Thomas Pesquet and the Japan Space Agency’s Akihiko Hoshide — if their Crew Dragon had anything secreted fluids under the floor. The answer was yes.

The Crew Dragon carrying the Crew-2 astronauts arrived at the space station in April, so SpaceX engineers were concerned that the contamination would have damaged the integrity of the spacecraft, which must be in pristine condition for its demanding journey back to Earth. The good news is that tests conducted on the ground with similar materials suggest no corrosion will have occurred on the Crew Dragon currently docked at the ISS, meaning it is safe to fly.

It is not yet clear how long the Crew-2 astronauts will be held in their toiletless spacecraft before the journey home. The Crew Dragon has carried astronauts only twice before, with the first return journey taking 19 hours and the second taking six hours. NASA mission planners will presumably do what they can to minimize travel time.

SpaceX has now fixed the toilet issue for future Crew Dragon missions so that the Crew-3 astronauts that launch on Saturday can use the bathroom without fear of alarms.

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