Four international astronauts will be forced to wear space underwear later this month on their return journey home from the International Space Station (ISS). An ongoing toilet leak onboard SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsules means the astronauts won’t be able to use the bathroom until they land back on Earth.
NASA’s Commercial Crew Program manager, Steve Stich confirmed the news during a recent press conference. He added the astronauts – including NASA’s Shane Kimbrough and Megan McArthur, French astronaut Thomas Pesquet of the European Space Agency, and Akihiko Hoshide of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency – will have to wear the underwear, which resemble nappies, for their trip home.
Engineers first noticed the trouble with the SpaceX capsule toilet after four civilians – Jared Isaacman, Sian Proctor, Haley Arceneaux and Christopher Sembroski – returned from their historic three-day journey around the Earth. They spent time aboard the SpaceX Resilience capsule in September, which marked the first all-tourist trip into space.
An alarm went off during the Resilience’s re-entry into Earth. But it wasn’t until the vessel was back at the SpaceX facility that crew members determined the signal was indicating urine had pooled beneath the floor panels after a tube from the toilet came unplugged. They fixed the issue by welding on a urine-flushing tube to the toilet, located on top of the capsule.
After the leak, NASA scientists and Elon Musk, the founder, CEO, and Chief Engineer at SpaceX, investigated other Crew Dragon shuttles. The group discovered that the other shuttles had the same problem.
SpaceX has been working to fix the problem for future flights. Kimbrough, McArthur, Pesquet and Hoshide, who have been aboard the ISS since April, have been able to use the station’s toilets. But they’ll forced to deal with the leak aboard their Crew Dragon capsule and wear the undergarments when they begin their journey home.
NASA hasn’t said how long the astronauts’ trip back to Earth will take from the ISS. But it could be anywhere between six and nineteen hours, based on travel times from previous trips.
The leak abroad the Crew Dragon shuttle occurred after Musk said in September that an upgraded toilet would be one of several upgrades to SpaceX’s next space tourism flight. In a tweet at the time, he addressed the challenges with the toilet onboard the modified Crew Dragon module that launched the Inspiration4 crew into space for a three-day trip.