Failing toilet caused alarm to sound on board SpaceX's Inspiration4 mission

Thankfully no unwanted floating waste made it to the cabin - unlike on Apollo 10.
Thankfully no unwanted floating waste made it to the cabin - unlike on Apollo 10. Photo credit: Reuters

It has emerged the astronauts on the Inspiration4 mission that sent an all-civilian crew into orbit around Earth had some "challenges" with the toilets on board.

That information came from Elon Musk, whose SpaceX company took the four to space and then back safely after three days in orbit.

He didn't go into any further details and, with no information from mission control either, the internet was left to speculate on whether the shit hit the fan, both literally and figuratively.

CNN has reported that an alarm started sounding, with the Dragon spacecraft's systems warning the crew of a "significant" issue, according to billionaire Jared Isaacman.

Isaacman, the offical commander of the fully-automated mission, said they rushed to try and work out with ground control what was causing the issue. Thankfully it turned out that they weren't in any danger, but the "waste management system" was.

So it turns out fans were involved, although no waste ended up hitting them.

Because of zero gravity, space toilets have fans inside to pull away any waste from the astronauts' bodies, avoiding any unwanted floaters.

"I want to be 100 percent clear, there were no issues in the cabin at all as it relates to that," Isaacman told CNN.

Mechanical issues stopped the fans from working properly, raising the alarm that briefly sent hearts racing. Thankfully the crew were able to resolve the issue with help from those on the grounds.

More information wasn't forthcoming, and isn't likely to be either. "Nobody really wants to get into the gory details," Isaacman told CNN. 

But he said NASA astronauts had told the Inspiration4 crew "using the bathroom in space is hard, and you've got to be very kind to one another". 

The toilet system on board the Dragon spaceship remains largely secret, with previous questions about it ignored due to its proprietary nature.

But one thing that is known is its location. It's on the ceiling that also features a large glass dome, meaning the astronauts are able to look out the window while using the facilities.

That's a long way from the days of the Apollo missions when plastic bags were just taped to the buttocks of astronauts.

That led to some memorable moments, like on Apollo 10 when some waste did end up floating through the cabin.

That caused Gene Cernan, the last man to walk on the moon on the 1972 Apollo 17 mission, to say "Here's another goddamn turd".

As well as improving the toilets, billionaire Musk also promised WiFi from his StarLink satellites for future astronauts, along with a little oven for heating food.

The latter was a reference to Sian Proctor, a geoscientist and science communicator on board Inspiration4, who took cold pizza to space.