Astronauts who are set to depart the International Space Station as early as this weekend will have to wear nappies on the way home because of their capsule’s broken toilet.
NASA astronaut Megan McArthur described the situation as “suboptimal” but manageable on Friday.
The journey home could take up to 20 hours.
“Spaceflight is full of lots of little challenges,” Ms McArthur said during a news conference from orbit. “This is just one more that we’ll encounter and take care of in our mission. So we’re not too worried about it.”
French astronaut Thomas Pesquet told reporters that the past six months have been intense in space. The astronauts conducted a series of spacewalks to upgrade the station’s power grid, endured inadvertent thruster firings by docked Russian vehicles that sent the station into brief spins, and hosted a Russian film crew – a space station first.
They also had to deal with the toilet leak and pulling up panels in their SpaceX capsule and discovering pools of urine.
The problem was first noted during the craft’s private flight in September, when a tube came unglued and spilled liquid beneath the floorboards.
SpaceX fixed the toilet on the capsule awaiting liftoff, but deemed the one in orbit unusable.
Engineers determined that the capsule had not been structurally compromised by the urine and was safe for the ride back.
On the culinary side, the astronauts grew the first chile peppers in space – “a nice morale boost,” according to Ms McArthur.
They got to sample their harvest in the past week, adding pieces of the green and red peppers to tacos.
“They have a nice spiciness to them, a little bit of a lingering burn,” she said. “Some found that more troublesome than others.”
Also returning with Ms McArthur and Mr Pesquet are NASA astronaut Shane Kimbrough and Japanese astronaut Akihiko Hoshide.
SpaceX launched them to the space station on 23 April.
Their capsule is certified for a maximum 210 days in space, and with Friday marking their 196th day aloft, NASA is eager to get them back as soon as possible.
One American and two Russians will remain on the space station following their departure.
In normal circumstances a flight with their replacements would arrive first – in order to share tips on living in space – but Kimbrough said the remaining NASA astronaut will fill in the newcomers.