SpaceX, space travel’s biggest problem was the toilet

The civilian Inspiration4 mission ended with a great success. A curious question remains: why did the on-board toilet alarm go off?

Inspiration4 was a historic mission in every way: the first space trip into orbit by non-astronauts was, among other things, the first in history piloted by a black woman and the first space trip by a person with prosthetics.

A mission born to inspire, which opened the horizons not only of the so-called space tourism, but involves in a broader sense the future of human missions in space - making them realistically accessible to "normal" people.

The great success of Inspiration4 presents only a very small stain: a curious "toilet affaire" that seems to have been more annoying than expected.

The toilet with the most epic view ever

SpaceX's Crew Dragon spacecraft, which took the four civilians for three days in orbit around Earth more than 500 kilometers above the planet's surface, is as elegant as it is small.

There's been a lot of talk about Crew Dragon's stylistic improvements to travel to the ISS: before the advent of SpaceX, transportation to the Space Station was completely reliant on the historic Soyuz, a sort of space bus that has been flying since 1966 and whose "furnishings" have remained anchored in essential Soviet style.

Crew Dragon is a brand new generation spacecraft, all touch screens and smooth white surfaces, with a design that only the beauty of SpaceX's spacesuits managed to overshadow.

And the bathrooms? Let's cut to the chase: the Dragon capsule is beautiful, but it's also pretty narrow. In fact, it spans a maximum diameter of 3.6 meters by a height of just 4.4 meters, and in that order of space it can hold up to 7 astronauts.

How is it possible for bathrooms to fit in there as well? Well, the question turned out to be trickier than expected: on the Crew Dragon, the bathroom is a small compartment located on the so-called nose cone, the "tip" of the capsule.

Divided only by a curtain from the rest of the ship, the toilet of the special Crew Dragon prepared for Inspiration4, is probably the bathroom with the most epic view ever: the large glass dome that allowed passengers to observe the Earth and space, in fact, is located right next to the bathroom.

As Captain Jared Isaacman joked on the eve of departure, there won't be much privacy but "when people inevitably use the restroom, they'll have an incredible view."

Toilet Alert

Inspiration4 has been an unquestionably successful mission: departing from Cape Canaveral last September 15, the 4 non-astronauts captained by Isaacman returned to Earth as scheduled, after three days in orbit, without any problem.

At least that was what was thought until yet another cryptic tweet by Elon Musk, followed by the interview given to CBS by Scott Poteet, one of the ground supervisors of the mission.

While Musk joked about possibly "paying more attention to the toilet," Poteet confirmed that an alarm went off on Crew Dragon involving "the organic waste management system."

Basically, there would have been a problem with the vacuum system, which as you can easily imagine is at the core of how every space toilet works. So did SpaceX's 4 non-astronauts risk being overwhelmed by their own "waste"? SpaceX did not go into detail, and Captain Isaacman confirmed that there were no such problems, despite the alarm.

The possibility that similar incidents could happen seems to worry insiders in no small part, who today seem to be relying more and more on SpaceX's vehicles to transport people into space.

As Benji Reed, head of SpaceX's human space mission programs, puts it, during the mission "there were a couple of issues to work out, we worked on the waste management system, but it worked perfectly and the crew was happy."

So no serious problems for the record-breaking space mission, which leaves the judgment to posterity: "you don't compromise on the psychological aspects of a mission," Isaacman says. Starting with the toilet.