Travelling to space seems like a magical idea in theory, but it’s filled with ugly impracticalities that could ruin your entire trip. For the recent returnees of the SpaceX Inspiration4 orbital mission, this ugliness came in the form of a particularly challenging space toilet.
On September 21, SpaceX founder Elon Musk alluded to some vague toilet troubles in a Twitter reply about what he’d fix for the next mission into space. Now, those troubles have been explained in a CNN interview with Inspiration4 crewmember Jared Isaacman.
While it’s not quite the poo-nami Musk appeared to be avoiding on Twitter, the problem did involve the toilet’s suction-based fans, which are designed to suck up waste from the human body. According to Isaacman, these toilet fans contained a mechanical problem which triggered an alarm within the Crew Dragon craft.
The exact nature of the alarm wasn’t described in detail, but the problem appears to be that when the fans became active (i.e. when somebody was doing their business), an alarm would sound, alerting to the crew to the situation.
The issue was eventually fixed, thanks to help from mission control, and there were no actual poo-related incidents on board the craft. So as funny as it would have been, it does appear SpaceX’s toilet situation was well under control throughout the flight.
Space toilets are a known technology at this stage and are well equipped to handle the tricky business of low-gravity relief. Typically, they use a suction system to capture waste, ensuring there’s no danger of it escaping into the wider station.
Here's one of the most secret yet useful systems on the spacecraft… our toilet! There's a curtain for privacy, and the rest is really just technicalities… let's just say that the only advantage is the view. ???? Shoutout to its designer @SpaceX! https://t.co/pL3lD2UGF6 pic.twitter.com/AbB3cCNe4Z
— Thomas Pesquet (@Thom_astro) April 25, 2021
Piloting a spacecraft is tough enough, and you can only imagine floating waste would make it a bit trickier to navigate.
Following the crew’s toilet troubles, it does appear the SpaceX situation is on the mend and that the technical issues with the Crew Dragon toilet will be fixed in the future. There’s hope that future astronauts won’t have to deal with the same strange potty problems.