Issues with the toilet on board SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule will leave a group of four astronauts without a bathroom option during their hours-long trip back home from the International Space Station aboard the 13-foot-wide capsule this month.
Instead, the crew will have to rely on “undergarments,” Steve Stich, NASA’s Commercial Crew Program manager, told reporters Friday night. SpaceX first discovered an issue with its spacecraft’s toilet last month while inspecting a different Crew Dragon capsule. The company found that a tube used to funnel urine into a storage tank became unglued, and was causing a leaky mess hidden beneath the capsule’s floor. It’s a saga that, at this point, has affected all three spacecraft the company operates.
NASA did not say how long the four astronauts — NASA’s Shane Kimbrough and Megan McArthur, French astronaut Thomas Pesquet of the European Space Agency, and Akihiko Hoshide from Japan — will have to be on board their Crew Dragon capsule with an inoperable toilet. So far, only two Crew Dragon spacecraft have returned from the ISS with people on board, and the first of those trips took 19 hours, while the second only took six.
Timing will depend on a several factors, including how orbital dynamics and weather affect the return trip, but “we are working to try to always minimize that time from undock to landing and so that’s what we’ll do with this flight,” Stich added. A problem with Crew Dragon’s toilet was first identified during SpaceX’s Inspiration4 mission in September, which carried four people on the first all-tourism mission to orbit, where they spent three days.