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An alarm went off on SpaceX's all-tourist space flight



An alarm began to sound as Jared Isaacman and his three fellow crewmates were freeflying through Earth's orbit, shielded from the unforgiving vacuum of space by nothing more than a 13-foot-wide carbon-fiber capsule, when they were about to enter the asteroid belt.


According to Isaacman, the systems on the SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft were alerting the crew to a "significant" problem. Their training to respond to in-space emergencies had taken months of study and practice, so they jumped into action and collaborated with SpaceX ground controllers to determine the source of the problem.


After all was said and done, it turned out that the Crew Dragon was safe. The on-board toilet, on the other hand, was not.


Nothing is simple in space, and this includes going to the bathroom. Making sure that everything goes down the toilet in a healthy human on this planet is usually a simple matter of aim in a healthy human. In contrast, there is no sensation of gravity in space. There's no guarantee that whatever comes out will end up...where it's supposed to end up! Waste can — and does — travel in any direction at any point in time.


Space toilets are equipped with fans inside them, which are used to create suction in order to alleviate this problem. Essentially, they are responsible for drawing waste from the human body and storing it.


Additionally, the "waste management system" fans on the Crew Dragon were experiencing mechanical difficulties. That's what sounded the alarm that the crew was alerted to.


An Inspiration4 mission director who assisted in the oversight of the mission on the ground, Scott "Kidd" Poteet, gave a heads-up to reporters during an interview with CBS about the problem. When asked about the "issues" with the waste management system, Poteet and SpaceX's director of crew mission management later confirmed that there were "issues" with the system but did not elaborate, igniting an immediate wave of speculation that the error could've caused a catastrophic mess.


Upon being asked specifically about it on Thursday, Isaacman responded, "I want to be absolutely clear: There were no issues in the cabin at all in relation to that."


Even so, Isaacman and his fellow passengers on the Inspiration4 mission were forced, during their three-day stay in orbit, to collaborate with SpaceX to resolve the issue. They also experienced numerous communications blackouts, which underscored how important the crew's rigorous training regimen was.


"I would estimate that we were without [communication with the ground] for approximately 10% of our time in orbit, and we were a very calm, cool crew during that time," he said, adding that "mental toughness, a good frame of mind, and a positive attitude" were essential to the mission's success. "We were a very calm, cool crew during that time," he said.


Because "there were obviously circumstances that occurred up there where if you had someone who didn't have that mental toughness and started to react poorly, that could've really brought the entire mission crashing down," Isaacman explained.


CNN Business reached out to SpaceX for comment, but did not receive a response.


It also highlights a fundamental truth about humanity and its extraterrestrial aspirations: no matter how polished and glitzy we imagine our space-faring future to be, biological realities will always be present in some form or another.


When it came to discussing the "toilet situation," Isaacman, like many other astronauts before him, was apprehensive and reserved.


In Isaacman's words, "no one really wants to get into the gory details." However, when the Inspiration4 crew spoke with some NASA astronauts, they were told that "using the bathroom in space is difficult, and you have to be extremely — what was the word? — extremely kind to one another."


Furthermore, despite the on-board toilet issues, no one was injured or suffered any humiliation, according to him.


Even under difficult circumstances, he said, "we were able to work through it and get [the toilet] working despite the fact that we were in a cabin or something like that." "I'm not sure who was training them, but we were able to work through it and get [the toilet] working despite the fact that we were in a cabin or something like that," he said.


Finding a safe way to relieve oneself in space, on the other hand, was a fundamental question posed at the dawn of human spaceflight more than half a century ago, and the road to answers was not without its bumps and bruises.


Stafford reported back to mission control on Day Six of the 1969 Apollo 10 mission, which saw astronauts Thomas Stafford, John Young, and Eugene Cernan circumnavigate the moon. According to previously classified government documents, Stafford reported that a piece of waste was floating through the cabin on Day Six of the mission.


"Give me a napkin as soon as possible," "Here's another goddamn turd," Stafford is heard saying just a few minutes before Cernan comes across another one, according to the recording.


According to a NASA report published later, the feces collection process at the time consisted of a "extremely basic" plastic bag that was "taped to the buttocks."


An official NASA report from 2007 revealed that "the fecal bag system was marginally functional and was described as extremely 'distasteful' by the crew." "There was no odor control provided by the bags in the small capsule, and the odor was very noticeable."


Since then, in-space toilets have evolved as a result of the tireless efforts of NASA scientists, according to journalist Mary Roach, author of "Packing for Mars," who spoke with NPR in 2010.


"The issue here is that you've built a very elaborate space toilet and you need to put it through its paces. For starters, it has to be transported to Ellington Field, where it must be boarded onto a zero-gravity simulator, which is a plane that performs these elaborate up-and-down arcs, and then it has to be tested by some unfortunate volunteer from the Waste System Management Office. And, I don't know about you, but I think it's a lot to ask of your colon to do it on demand in 20 seconds, to say the least. As a result, it is extremely complicated and difficult."


And, as Roach points out in "Packing for Mars," astronaut potty training is not something to be taken lightly.


'The simple act of urination can, in the absence of gravity, turn into a medical emergency requiring catheterization and humiliating radio consultations with flight surgeons,' she wrote in her article. And because urine behaves differently inside the bladder than it does outside the bladder in space, it can be difficult to tell when one needs to go to the bathroom.


Adapting to a new environment


The human body has evolved to be adapted to Earth's gravity, oxygen-rich air, and predictable ecological cycles, which make it an ideal environment for life. It is specifically not designed to float disoriented in weightlessness, a fact that has caused numerous astronauts to experience nauseating queasiness, particularly during the first couple of days in orbit, as a result of their experience.


"I vomited 93 minutes into my first flight," NASA astronaut Steven Smith, a veteran of four Space Shuttle missions, admitted to a journalist during a press conference. "That was the first of a total of 100 times over the course of the four flights. Being in an environment where you know you're going to throw up is strange."


In one paper, NASA estimates that approximately 80 percent of astronauts have suffered from Space Adaptation Syndrome, a disease that has a formal name in the scientific community.


In the course of the Inspiration4 mission, Isaacman stated that he did not have the urge to vomit. Adjusting to microgravity, on the other hand, can be difficult.


As he explained to CNN Business, "It's just this pooling in your head, like when you're hanging upside down on your bed." "But you have to find a way to sort of just ignore it and get on with your life... After about a day, it begins to balance out and you no longer notice it as much."


Not all of his shipmates were as fortunate as he was. As Inspiration4's medical officer, Hayley Arceneaux, a 29-year-old cancer survivor who worked as a nurse, was required to administer Phenergan shots — an antihistamine used to treat motion sickness and nausea — to patients, according to Isaacman.


The unavoidable fact is that humans will continue to struggle with diseases for as long as we continue to look at space and believe it is a destination to which we should aspire. As a result, many journalists, including Roach, have raised concerns about our tendency to romanticize space travel while downplaying the harsh realities and risks associated with the endeavor.


Despite the discomfort, Isaacman said he has no regrets about his decision to spend approximately $200 million on a three-day spaceflight that will take place in the near future.


It's his hope that this serves as a model for future missions, and he believes in SpaceX's mission to one day support entire colonies of people living in outer space, according to the CEO.


"I just felt really charged up and energized about the idea that we just have to keep pushing and going further and further," he said during his flight.

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