Last week, the SpaceX Crew-2 capsule was pretty clear on the way home, but one thing was standing in its way: its toilet. While the car is evacuated to return to the ground, the toilet will remain offline for the duration of the trip.
If the astronauts needed to go, they would have to carry them, or use the astronauts’ diapers included in their flight suits as an emergency.
“Of course this is sub-optimal, but we are ready to manage it by the time we are aboard the Dragon on the way home,” Kay Megan MacArthur, Crew-2 mission pilot, said during a press conference Friday.
The acorn-shaped capsule is somewhat larger than a pickup on the ground; It does not have a proper bathroom. Instead, it has a toilet bowl with a tube and fans built into one of the spacecraft’s compartments that create suction to ensure that waste travels in the right direction in the weightlessness of space.
In September, SpaceX discovered a toilet leak on another of its capsules during Inspiration 4, the three-day orbital flight of private astronauts who had not docked at the space station, according to Bill Gerstenmaier, the company’s vice president who discussed it. Toilet problems during a press conference in October.
Mr. Gerstenmaier said a pipe from the capsule’s toilet was passing waste to an internal tank, fluid leaking into a fan, sending urine all over the area under the capsule’s inner floor.
When SpaceX engineers discovered the defect, they instructed astronauts on the space station to inspect the Crew 2 capsule. They found similar traces of urine under the interior floor, which officials worried could corrode some parts of the aluminum capsule and pose a safety hazard for the return flight.
SpaceX engineers have conducted experiments on the ground to test whether urine, which is mixed with an ammonia-removing compound called oxone, can corrode aluminum. Mr. Gerstenmaier said the parts sat in a chamber that simulated the humidity conditions aboard the space station “for an extended period of time”.
From experiment and checks on the Inspiration4 capsule, SpaceX found that the urine-oxon mixture had little effect on the aluminum parts due to heavy coatings on the Crew Dragon that are a “significant liquid-blocking agent,” Sarah Walker, SpaceX Crew Dragon mission management manager Reporters during a press conference.
Ms Walker added: “We knew the liquid evaporated in just a couple of days, and that really limits the effect that we noticed when we were doing all the post-flight inspections.”
NASA officials agreed with the results of the experiments and considered Crew 2 to be safe to return to Earth. SpaceX has proposed a permanent fix for future Crew Dragon capsules that should ensure that the urine tube will not retract.
The toilet leak on the Crew-2 capsule is still present, which means astronauts who respond to nature’s call in orbit should use “underwear,” Steve Stitch, director of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, told reporters October 31. in their air suits.
“Our goal is to not use the system at all for Homecoming, because of what we saw with the questioner,” Mr. Stitch said. “Anytime the crew wears underwear, they wear underwear in that suit, and it’s a short assignment back home, so it’s typical for them to wear underwear and they can use them on the way home.”
“The space journey is full of many small challenges,” said Dr. MacArthur. “This is just another one we will encounter and take care of on our mission.”