By Jackie Wattles, CNN Business
As Jared Isaacman and his three fellow crewmates were freeflying through Earth’s orbit, shielded from the unforgiving vacuum of space by nothing but a 13-foot-wide carbon-fiber capsule, an alarm started blaring.
The SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft’s systems were warning the crew of a “significant” issue, Isaacman said. They’d spent months poring over SpaceX manuals and training to respond to in-space emergencies, so they leaped into action, working with SpaceX ground controllers to pinpoint the cause of the error.
As it turned out, the Crew Dragon wasn’t in jeopardy. But the on board toilet was.
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.
Scott “Kidd” Poteet, an Inspiration4 mission director who helped oversee the mission from the ground, tipped reporters off about the issue in an interview with CBS. Poteet and SpaceX’s director of crew mission management later confirmed there were “issues” with the waste management system at a press conference but didn’t go into detail, setting off an immediate wave of speculation that the error could’ve created a disastrous mess.
When asked directly about that on Thursday, however, Isaacman said “I want to be 100% clear: There were no issues in the cabin at all as it relates to that.”
But Isaacman and his fellow travelers on the…