Sunday, December 5, 2021

Broken toilet causes SpaceX crew to get stuck in diapers

Astronauts leaving the International Space Station on Sunday will be stuck in diapers on their way home due to a broken toilet in their capsule.

NASA astronaut Megan MacArthur described Friday’s situation as “sub-optimal,” but manageable. She and her three crew members will spend 20 hours in their SpaceX capsule from the closure of the hatches to the scheduled splashdown on Monday morning.

“Space flight is full of many small problems,” she said during a press conference from orbit. “This is just another one that we will face and that we will take care of in our mission. So it doesn’t really bother us. “

After a series of meetings on Friday, mission managers decided to bring MacArthur and the rest of her team home before launching their replacement. SpaceX’s launch has already been delayed by more than a week due to bad weather and an undisclosed medical issue involving a crew member.

SpaceX is now targeting a launch until Wednesday night.

French astronaut Thomas Pesquet, who will return with MacArthur, told reporters that the past six months have been tense there. The astronauts conducted a series of space walks to upgrade the station’s power system, survived the unintentional engine starts of docked Russian vehicles that put the station into short-lived rotation, and hosted a private Russian film crew – first a space station.

They also had to deal with a toilet leak, pulling out panels in the SpaceX capsule and finding puddles of urine. The problem was first seen on a private SpaceX flight in September when the tube came off and urine spilled under the floorboards. SpaceX installed a toilet bowl on a capsule awaiting take-off, but found it in orbit unusable.

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The engineers determined that the capsule structure was not damaged by urine and was safe to travel back. Astronauts will have to rely on what NASA describes as absorbent “underwear.”

On the culinary front, the astronauts raised the first chili peppers in space, which MacArthur said was “a huge boost in morale.” Last week, they tasted their harvest by adding chunks of green and red pepper to the tacos.

“They have a nice spice, a bit of a stubborn burn,” she said. “Some were more troublesome than others.”

Also with MacArthur and Peske returned: NASA astronaut Shane Kimbro and Japanese astronaut Akihiko Hoshide. SpaceX launched them into the space station on April 23. Their capsule is certified for a maximum of 210 days in space, and with Friday marking their 196th day of flight, NASA is keen to get them back as soon as possible.

One American and two Russians will remain at the space station after they leave. While it would be better if they were replaced first – to share tips for living in space – Kimbrough said the remaining NASA astronaut would replace the rookies.

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