Space travel is not as glamourous as science fiction makes it out to be, and the astronauts of SpaceX Crew-2 are learning that the hard way. The SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft that is taking them back to Earth has toilet problems and it will be unusable.
"We have other means to allow the crew to perform the functions they need," said NASA's Commercial Crew program manager Steve Stitch in a prelaunch briefing – and by "other means," he means diapers.
NASA astronauts Megan McArthur and Shane Kimbrough, plus Japanese Space Agency's (JAXA) Akihiko Hoshide and European Space Agency's (ESA) Thomas Pesquet, will have to wear the "undergarments" on the 20-hour trip back to Earth.
They are scheduled to splash down today at 10:33 p.m. EDT (02:33 GMT) off the coast of Florida. McArthur described the situation as suboptimal but manageable, the last inconvenience in an adventurous six months for the crew – which included a new Russian module accidentally firing thrusters and pushing the International Space Station on a serious spin.
"Spaceflight is full of lots of little challenges," McArthur said in a press conference from the Space Station. "This is just one more that we'll encounter and take care of in our mission. So we're not too worried about it."
The problem with the toilet design became clear on a different SpaceX capsule, used by the Inspiration4 private mission in September. An investigation by the astronauts revealed a similar urine leakage problem here, thus Elon Musk’s company deemed the facility unusable for the return flight.
Crew-2 is coming back before Crew-3 is launching due to weather problems and an undisclosed medical issue with one of the astronauts. SpaceX hopes that the launch will take place on Wednesday night but it might be later.