The toilet on another Crew Dragon capsule sprang a leak in September during Inspiration4, SpaceX’s first fully private mission. None of the four passengers noticed the problem during the mission, according to Bill Gerstenmaier, a SpaceX vice president.
When the capsule returned from its three-day jaunt in orbit, engineers found urine throughout an internal section beneath Crew Dragon’s interior floor. The source: a broken tube from the capsule’s toilet that funnels waste into an internal tank.
Mr. Gerstenmaier detailed the toilet incident during a news conference with NASA officials in October and described how SpaceX had scrambled to fix the issue before the launch of the new Crew Dragon capsule on Wednesday. The company replaced the old tube system with a new tube that’s fully welded to its tank and incapable of coming “unglued,” Mr. Gerstenmaier said.
Those fixes were approved by NASA late last month, just before Crew-3’s first launch attempt on Halloween (it was delayed several times after that). The toilet dilemma, however, remained on the Crew Dragon that was docked to the space station until Monday.
The toilet system on that capsule, nicknamed Endeavour, also leaked urine beneath its interior floor, worrying officials on the ground that it could corrode some of the capsule’s aluminum parts and hamper its ability to return astronauts home safely. SpaceX engineers conducted experiments on the ground to test whether the urine, which is mixed with an anti-ammonia compound, could corrode the aluminum.
SpaceX officials said the urine-oxone mixture had little effect on the aluminum parts, citing its experiment and inspections of the Inspiration4 capsule. Heavy coats of paint on Crew Dragon were “a great blocking agent to the liquid,” Sarah Walker, SpaceX’s mission management director for Crew Dragon, told reporters during a news conference.
“We learned that the liquid evaporates within just a couple days,” Ms. Walker said. “And that really limits the impact that we observed when we were doing all of our post-flight inspections.”
The Crew-2 astronauts were instructed not to use Endeavour’s toilet during their 8.5-hour trip home; instead they were to use undergarments — astronaut-grade diapers built into their flight suits.
Fortunately for Crew-3, the facilities are functioning during the voyage of some 22 hours to the space station.
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