The billionaire race to space has provided a list of fascinating headlines. The most recent escapade, which involved Elon Musk’s SpaceX launching the Inspiration4 mission into orbit, added a rather unsanitary headline to the list.
No professional astronauts rode with the Inspiration4 crew, leaving the amateurs to solve any issues that arose on their own. They did, however, have communications with the SpaceX team — and that came in handy when an alarm sounded.
CNN Business reported the problem came from a fan in a toilet. The fan’s purpose is to create suction to make sure that human waste goes the right direction in the zero-gravity environment. Adding to the popular saying regarding fans and fecal matter, the fan malfunctioned, and the alarm went off.
To make matters slightly more difficult, the crew sporadically lost communications with the team on the ground during the three-day trip in orbit. One of the crew members, Jared Isaacman, said they had no communication with the ground for about 10% of their time in orbit.
The crew eventually resolved the issue and Isaacman put to rest any speculation of a mess in the cabin.
Deep space defecating has come a long way in recent decades, and previous astronauts haven’t been so lucky. The Inspiration4 crew’s toilet may have been faulty, but all the astronauts from the Apollo 10 mission in 1969 had was “a plastic bag which was taped to the buttocks.”
Government documents of that ‘69 mission revealed astronauts Thomas Stafford, John Young and Eugene Cernan encountered a floating piece of waste in the cabin.
Getting space toilets approved and testing them on Earth isn’t the most pleasant process. In a 2010 interview, journalist Mary Roach told NPR that the toilet is put on a zero-gravity simulator and a volunteer, well, tests it.