SpaceX needs to tame toilet trouble before weekend launch

Technology

FILE – In this May 30, 2020, file photo, a SpaceX Falcon 9, with NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken in the Dragon crew capsule, lifts off from Pad 39-A at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla. For the first time in nearly a decade, astronauts blasted towards orbit aboard an American rocket from American soil, a first for a private company. (AP Photo/John Raoux, File)

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December 25 2021 12:00 am

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) — SpaceX is taming some toilet troubles in its capsules before it launches four more astronauts.

The company and NASA want to make sure the toilet leaks won’t compromise the capsule launching early Sunday from Kennedy Space Center or another one that’s been parked at the International Space Station since April.

During SpaceX’s first private flight last month, a tube came unglued, spilling urine onto fans and beneath the floor, said William Gerstenmaier, a SpaceX vice president who used to work for NASA. The same problem was recently discovered inside the Dragon capsule at the space station, he told reporters Monday night.

As a permanent fix, SpaceX has welded on the urine-flushing tube that’s inside the company’s newest capsule, named Endurance by its U.S.-German crew. NASA isn’t quite finished reviewing the last-minute fix.

As for the Dragon capsule in orbit, less urine pooled beneath the floor panels than the one that carried a billionaire and three others on a three-day flight, Gerstenmaier said. That’s because the NASA-led crew only spent a day living in it before arriving at the space station.

SpaceX is conducting tests to make sure the spilled liquid didn’t weaken the orbiting capsule during the past six months, Gerstenmaier said. Any structural damage could endanger astronauts during their flight back to Earth next month. The final tests should be completed later this week, he noted.

In the meantime, the one German and three NASA astronauts fly in from Houston on Tuesday for the countdown. Like their predecessors, they’ll spend six months at the space station.

This will be SpaceX’s fourth launch of NASA astronauts and its fifth passenger flight overall. NASA turned to SpaceX and Boeing to transport crews to and from the space station, following the retirement of the shuttle fleet in 2011. U.S. astronauts hitched rides on Russian rockets until SpaceX took over the job last year.

Boeing has yet to launch anyone. A repeat test flight of its Starliner capsule, without a crew, is off until next year because of valve trouble.

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