Wednesday, December 1, 2021

No toilet for return of SpaceX crew, stuck using diapers

Cape Canaveral, Fla. (NWN) — Astronauts departing the International Space Station later this week will be stuck using diapers on their way home because of a broken toilet in their capsule.

NASA astronaut Megan MacArthur on Friday described the situation as “sub-optimal” but manageable.

“Spaceflight is full of lots of small challenges,” she said during a news conference from orbit. “It’s just another one we’ll face and take care of in our mission. So we’re not too worried about it.”

The journey home can take up to 20 hours.

Mission managers could decide later Friday whether to bring MacArthur and his three crewmates back to their SpaceX capsules before starting their replacements. That launch has already been delayed by more than a week due to bad weather and an undisclosed medical issue involving one of the crew.

French astronaut Thomas Pesquet told reporters that the past six months have been very tense. Astronauts conducted a series of spacewalks to upgrade the station’s power grid, endured unintentional thruster firing by docked Russian vehicles that sent the station into a brief spin, and hosted a private Russian film crew. Ki – First a space station.

He also had to deal with toilet leaks, pulling off panels in his SpaceX capsule and searching for pools of urine. The problem was first noticed during a SpaceX private flight in September, when a tube came unstuck and spilled urine under the floor. SpaceX fixed a toilet on a capsule awaiting liftoff, but deemed the one in orbit unusable.

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Engineers determined that the capsule was not structurally compromised by urine and was safe for a ride back.

On the culinary side, according to MacArthur, astronauts grew the first chili peppers in space—”a good moral boost”. He had to sample his harvest over the past week, adding bits of green and red pepper to tacos.

“They have a nice pungency, burn a bit,” she said. “Found some to be more trouble than others.”

MacArthur and Pesquet are also returning with: NASA astronaut Shane Kimbrough and Japanese astronaut Akihiko Hoshide. SpaceX launched them to the space station on April 23. His capsule is certified for a maximum of 210 days in space, and with Friday marking his 196th day, NASA is eager to get him back as soon as possible.

After his departure, an American and two Russians will remain on the space station. While it would have been better had their replacements arrived earlier — to share tips on living in space — Kimbrough said the remaining NASA astronauts would fill in the newcomers.

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The Associated Press Department of Health and Science receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. NWN is solely responsible for all content.

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