SpaceX’s toilet triggers emergency alarm during Inspiration4 flight – but mission leader says he will not reveal ‘gory details’

The crew had to parlay with SpaceX to deal with the issue, but lead astronaut Jacob Issacman said there was no communication around ‘10 per cent of [the] time’

Adam Smith
Wednesday 29 September 2021 09:41
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'Captivating highlights from the launch of SpaceX's Inspiration4 mission '

The toilet on SpaceX’s all-civilian flight malfunctioned on the journey, setting off an alarm midway through the voyage, it has now been revealed.

Toilets in space have to operate using a fan to create suction, because of the lack of gravity in that environment, but the one on the Crew Dragon’s craft experienced mechanical problems, as reported by CNN.

Jacob Isaacman, the billionaire lead of the mission, said that he had to work with SpaceX to respond to the problem during the three days he and his three other astronauts spent in orbit but denied any rumours that the flight was unpleasant due to the bathroom failure.

"I want to be 100 per cent clear: There were no issues in the cabin at all as it relates to that”, Isaacman said.

Unfortunately, communicating with SpaceX while in orbit was a challenge. "I would say probably somewhere around 10 per cent of our time on orbit we had no [communication with the ground], and we were a very calm, cool crew during that," Isaacman said, adding that "mental toughness and a good frame of mind and a good attitude" were crucial.

"The psychological aspect is one area where you can’t compromise because...there were obviously circumstances that happened up there where if you had somebody that didn’t have that mental toughness and started to react poorly, that really could’ve brought down the whole mission.”

Mr Isaacman reportedly said he did not want to “get into the gory details” but said no member of the crew suffered any indignities.

"I don’t know who was training them, but we were able to work through it and get [the toilet] going even with what was initially challenging circumstances, so there was nothing ever like, you know, in the cabin, or anything like that," he said.

Many astronauts experience nauseousness while in orbit, especially during the first days of a mission. "It’s just this pooling in your head, like when you hang upside down on your bed," Mr Isaacman said.

"But you have to kind of find a way to just ignore it and work through it”, adding that after a day it “kind of balances out and you don’t notice it as much".

The development of space-based toilets is one that is vital for the success of missions, especially if humans develop the technology to travel to Mars, or other celestial bodies. In 2020, Nasa offered £27,900 to engineers designing a toilet that could be used on the Moon’s surface but which was also small enough to fit on the lunar lander.

The challenge calls on the public to figure out how to capture sewage and smells in both microgravity and on the moon – with the winner prioritising women’s difficulties urinating and defecating simultaneously in zero gravity with a “genital guard” that uses airflow to direct waste into the bowl and a memory-foam seat.

Eventually, it may be required to turn astronaut faeces into food, as well as fertiliser, supplements, and other essential materials. Nasa is aiming to create a ‘closed loop’ ecosystem so that spacecraft will become self-sufficient and can reach more distant planets.

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