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SpaceX's Space Tourist Flight's Toilet Issues Were So Bad, They Set Off An Alarm

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An alarm went off on SpaceX's all-tourist space flight. The problem was the toilet.

After spending nearly three days in space, SpaceX's Inspiration4 crew may have more appreciation for the facilities here on Earth — namely, the toilets.

The historic all-civilian SpaceX mission, which launched Sept. 15 and successfully splashed down on Saturday (Sept. 18), went off without a hitch, except for a minor issue with the Dragon's onboard toilet.

"It was very clean mission from start to finish," SpaceX's Benji Reed, who leads human spaceflight programs, said during a post-flight news conference Saturday night. "We had a couple of issues that we worked, we did work something on the Waste Management System, but that was worked [out] fine and, you know, the crew was happy and healthy."

Nothing in space is easy, including going to the bathroom. In a healthy human on Earth, making sure everything ends up in the toilet is usually a matter of simple aim. But in space, there is no feeling of gravity. There's no guarantee that what comes out will go...where it's supposed to. Waste can — and does — go in every possible direction.

To solve that problem, space toilets have fans inside them, which are used to create suction. Essentially they pull waste out of the human body and keep it stored away.

And the Crew Dragon's "waste management system" fans were experiencing mechanical problems. That is what tripped the alarm the crew heard.

Isaacman and his fellow travelers on the Inspiration4 mission did have to work with SpaceX to respond to the problem during their three-day stay in orbit, during which they experienced numerous communications blackouts, highlighting the importance of the crew's thorough training regimen.

"I would say probably somewhere around 10% of our time on orbit we had no [communication with the ground], and we were a very calm, cool crew during that," he said, adding that "mental toughness and a good frame of mind and a good attitude" were crucial to the mission.

"The psychological aspect is one area where you can't compromise because...there were obviously circumstances that happened up there where if you had somebody that didn't have that mental toughness and started to react poorly, that really could've brought down the whole mission," Isaacman said.