A faulty* toilet will leave a crew of astronauts relying on space nappies when they return to Earth from the International Space Station.
The toilet on board the SpaceX Crew Dragon Endeavour capsule has sprung a leak and will be out of operation for the journey, NASA has confirmed.
“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,” said NASA’s commercial crew program manager Steve Stich.
“We have other means to allow the crew to perform the functions they need.”
Mr Stich said the four astronauts – Americans Shane Kimbrough and Megan McArthur, French astronaut Thomas Pesquet and Akihiko Hoshide from Japan – would instead wear a special “undergarment*”.
Journey to the International Space Station
Such undergarments have long been used by astronauts, allowing them to relieve themselves in their spacesuits before space toilets were available and also for launches, landings and spacewalks.
“Anytime the crew is suited they use an undergarment in that suit, and it’s a short mission coming home,” Mr Stich said.
“So, it’s pretty typical to have an undergarment on and they can use that on the way home.”
SpaceX first discovered the issue with its spacecraft’s toilet last month while inspecting a different Crew Dragon capsule.
It found that a tube used to funnel urine into a storage tank had become unglued and was causing a leaky mess beneath the capsule’s floor.
Checks of the other two Crew Dragon capsules found the same plumbing problem, raising concerns the urine could damage important hardware*.
While the problem was able to be fixed in the capsules that are on the ground, the repairs to the Endeavour capsule’s toilet will have to wait until it returns from the ISS. Therefore, the toilet will be out of action for the journey.
Exactly how long that journey will take – and how long the astronauts will have to hold on or use their space nappies – is unclear.
So far, only two Crew Dragon spacecraft have returned from the ISS with people on board. The first of those trips took 19 hours and the second took only six hours.
The length of this journey, which is scheduled to take place early this month, will depend on several factors, including the weather.
The crew docked at the ISS on the SpaceX Crew Dragon Endeavour in April and have been conducting scientific tests and maintenance.
They will be replaced by another crew of four astronauts, Raja Chari, Tom Marshburn, Kayla Barron and Matthias Maurer, who are scheduled to arrive on SpaceX Crew Dragon Endurance.
- faulty: broken, not working properly
- undergarment: items of clothing worn underneath the outer layers of clothing
- hardware: machinery and equipment
- What is the name of the SpaceX capsule the crew will return to Earth in?
- How many astronauts are part of this crew?
- What will the astronauts wear during the journey?
- How long have that been on the International Space Station?
- What have they been doing on the ISS?
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1. Selling space nappies
Marketing nappies as a product used by astronauts could appeal to some nappy buyers and be a point of difference between brands! Design new packaging for nappies targeted at people who are interested in space. Think about who your target market is and what will capture their attention so that they will buy these nappies.
Time: allow 30 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English; Economics and Business; Visual Arts
Now you know a little more about how astronauts relieve themselves in the unique environment created by space exploration, think about some of the other everyday tasks that might be different or more difficult. Make a list of wonderings you have. Then choose one of your wonderings and see if you can do some research to find out the answer.
Time: allow 20 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English; Science; Technologies
An adjective is a describing word. They are often found describing a noun. To start with look at the words before the nouns. Search for all the adjectives you can find in the article. Did you find any repeat adjectives or are they all different?
Pick three of your favourite adjectives from the text and put them in your own sentences to show other ways to use them.
Have you used any in your writing?