Returning ISS Crew Might Have to Hold It In After SpaceX Crew Dragon Toilet Issue

A possible leaky space toilet in the Crew Dragon capsule might make Crew-2's return trip from the International Space Station a bit uncomfortable.
John Loeffler

Crew-2 astronauts returning from the International Space Station (ISS) will have to make do without a toilet after a possible urine leak issue was discovered in SpaceX's Crew Dragon capsule.

The issue was first discovered during the Inspiration4 mission in September while the Crew Dragon capsule was orbiting the Earth, according to Forbes.

SpaceX has redesigned the toilet to fix the issue, but the problem was only discovered after the Crew-2 mission to the ISS was already underway, so that mission's capsule will have to wait until it returns to Earth to be repaired.

"Our intent is to not use the system at all for the return leg home because of what we've seen with the fluids we are talking about," NASA Commercial Crew program manager Steve Stitch told reporters during a Crew-3 launch briefing this week. "We have other means to allow the crew to perform the functions they need."

Euphemisms aside, space toilets are a relatively new phenomenon, first being introduced in NASA's Skylab in 1973. Humans have been figuring out ways to relieve themselves without a toilet in space since Yuri Gagarin's first-ever human spaceflight in 1961. 

The Apollo 11 moon landing took place over the course of several days, during which Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins all had to rely on hoses and bags for managing waste during the mission, including bringing rolled up plastic bags full of feces back to Earth.

In recent decades, special undergarments — essentially space diapers — have been used by astronauts as a matter of course, and that appears to be the plan for the returning Crew-2 astronauts.

Either that or they could hold it in while they make their way back down to Earth. The return trip can take as few as six and a half hours once the Crew Dragon capsule undocks from the ISS.

“We are working to try to always minimize that time from undocking to landing, so that's what we'll do with this flight,” Stitch said.

When that return will be is still an open question, with the delay of the Crew-3 launch this weekend over inclement weather along the flight path, but a new launch window is set for the early morning hours of November 3.

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