SpaceX Crew-3 spacecraft gets toilet upgrade to fix urine tube problem

NASA's next astronauts heading to the ISS can use the Crew Dragon loo with no fear.

Amanda Kooser
Freelance writer Amanda C. Kooser covers gadgets and tech news with a twist for CNET. When not wallowing in weird gear and iPad apps for cats, she can be found tinkering with her 1956 DeSoto.
Amanda Kooser
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Standing in front of a Falcon 9 rocket at Kennedy Space Center in Florida are (from left) NASA astronauts Kayla Barron, Raja Chari and Tom Marshburn, and European Space Agency astronaut Matthias Maurer.  


The four astronauts set to launch on a SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft on Halloween can take comfort in knowing their toilet has gotten an important upgrade. SpaceX took a deep dive into the Dragon's loo after reports of issues with the private Inspiration4 mission and discovered a problem with a urine tube.

"There's a storage tank where the urine goes to be stored in the vehicle and inside that storage tank there's a tube that came unconnected or came unglued and it allowed urine to essentially not go into the storage tank, but to go into the fan system," SpaceX's William Gerstenmaier said during a NASA teleconference on Monday.

SpaceX found urine contamination under the floor of Inspiration4, though Gerstenmaier said the private astronaut crew wasn't aware of any issues during the three-day flight. The Crew-3 spacecraft -- named Endurance -- was upgraded with a welded structure that got rid of the troublesome joint from the previous design. "It will not be a problem for us at all with Crew-3," Gerstenmaier said.

Crew-3 is part of NASA's Commercial Crew Program that's using SpaceX to ferry crew to and from the International Space Station. NASA astronauts Raja Chari, Tom Marshburn and Kayla Barron and European Space Agency astronaut Matthias Maurer are set to spend six months in orbit.

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There's another Crew Dragon already up at the ISS. It's the one that carried Crew-2 into space, and it's also suffering from the same pee-tube issue. Gerstenmaier said there was concern that Oxone -- a substance mixed with the urine to remove ammonia -- could potentially cause corrosion inside the spacecraft. Testing back on Earth and checks of the Crew-2 Dragon in orbit show it should be safe to use to bring those astronauts home.

The Crew-3 mission passed a flight readiness review and is a "go" for launch early in the morning Eastern time on Oct. 31. The astronauts on board will also be good to "go" with their improved space-commode.