SpaceX upgrades toilets after urine leakages on previous missions

On previous flights a tube hooked to the toilet storage tank has come loose.
On previous flights a tube hooked to the toilet storage tank has come loose. Photo credit: Getty Images

After toilet issues onboard SpaceX's Inspiration4 flight that sent an all-civilian crew into orbit, new space toilet tech is being trailed this weekend.

During that flight an alarm sounded, with the Dragon spacecraft systems indicating it was a "significant" issue.

It turned out not to be life-threatening, thankfully, and after working with ground control they were able to identify an issue with the "waste management system", with fans designed to pull waste away from astronauts failing to fire.

SpaceX founder Elon Musk promised "upgraded toilets" following Inspiration4's return to Earth and they're ready to be tested on the Endurance spacecraft, which heads to the International Space Station (ISS) this weekend.

The new system has been altered to prevent urine leaks after it was revealed a tube hooked up to a toilet storage tank had come loose during the Inspiration4 flight.

This "allowed urine to not go into the storage tank but, essentially, to go into the fan system," William Gerstenmaier, vice president of mission assurance at SpaceX, said.

A review of the capsule used in a previous mission to the ISS was then undertaken by the company and NASA, which indicated urine leakage had occurred in that capsule too.

"We've fixed this problem in the tank by essentially making an all-welded structure with no longer joints in there that can come unglued and become disconnected," Gerstenmaier said.

That's good news, as any kind of liquid getting into systems onboard a spacecraft could cause major issues, including corrosion damage that could make returning to Earth complicated.

Billionaire Jared Isaacman, who was the commander of the Inspiration4 mission, had previously said NASA astronauts told his crew "using the bathroom in space is hard, and you've got to be very kind to one another".

While the proprietary nature of the toilets means much of the system remains a secret, its location is known; it sits on a ceiling that features a large glass dome, meaning the astronauts are able to look out the window while using the facilities.

During the Apollo missions, the astronauts weren't afforded such luxuries. They simply had plastic bags taped to their buttocks.

Those plastic bags had some significant issues of their own, particularly on Apollo 10 when some solid waste ended up floating around the cabin.

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