Crew-2 Safely Returns from ISS — without a working toilet

Four astronauts splashed down safely in the Gulf of Mexico aboard their SpaceX Crew Dragon Endeavour capsule, despite one of the parachutes not deploying immediately. Their spectacular return in darkness from the International Space Station capped off the record-setting mission for the SpaceX Crew-2, with the longest spaceflight by a U.S. crewed spacecraft. Their 199 days in orbit surpassed the 168 days set by NASA’s SpaceX Crew-1 mission earlier this year.

The crew had to overcome a few challenges during their mission, the last of which was one of the four parachutes becoming tangled and not inflating immediately. Eventually it fully unfurled, and NASA said later a press briefing that the “deceleration of the spacecraft all looked nominal.” Another challenge was a non-functioning toilet on the Dragon capsule for their eight-and-a-half-hour trip home. The crew was forced to rely on the same “undergarments” — essentially adult diapers — that are used during spacewalks.

Splashdown took place at about 10:33 pm EST on November 8, 2021, off the coast of Pensacola, Florida. Because of the return in darkness, the capsule’s descent through the atmosphere was seen along the flight path, such as this image below taken from Louisiana. The crew’s journey home began Monday just after 2 pm ET when the astronauts strapped into the Crew Dragon capsule, the one they arrived in at the ISS in April.

SpaceX has now completed its fourth human spaceflight, and third mission for NASA in just 18 months. The fifth crewed launch for SpaceX – Crew 3 to the ISS — is currently scheduled to launch on November 10 at 9:03PM ET, NASA said.

The Crew 2 astronauts included NASA’s Shane Kimbrough and Megan McArthur, JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency) astronaut Akihiko Hoshide, and ESA (European Space Agency) astronaut Thomas Pesquet. During their mission the Crew-2 astronauts contributed to a host of science and maintenance activities, scientific investigations, and technology demonstrations. In addition, they conducted four spacewalks to install and deploy new solar arrays, and prepare for future installation of the ISS Roll-out Solar Arrays. The fourth spacewalk, conducted by Hoshide and Pesquet on September 12, was the first in the history of the space station that did not include an American or Russian.

After splashdown, recovery teams brought the crew onboard a ship in less than an hour. At a briefing after the recovery NASA’s chief of human spaceflight operations discussed the parachute deploy issue.

Support teams work around the SpaceX Crew Dragon Endeavour spacecraft shortly after it landed off the coast of Pensacola, Florida, Monday, Nov. 8, 2021. Photo Credit: NASA/Aubrey Gemignani.

“The team will be going off and looking at how the loading was on the chute and understanding that behavior,” Lueders said. “It is behavior we’ve seen multiple times in other tests, and it usually happens when the lines kind of bunch up together until the aero forces kind of open up and spread the chutes. The thing that makes me feel a little bit more confident is that the loading and the deceleration of the spacecraft all looked nominal.”

The non-working toilet issue was known since September when an alarm sounded on board another Crew Dragon spacecraft during the four-day orbital flight of the Inspiration4 mission, indicating a leak in the toilet system. An inspection of the Endeavour capsule’s toilet showed the same problem, indicating a design flaw.

During a press conference from the ISS last week, McArthur said using undergarments rather than the toilet is “suboptimal.”

“But we are prepared to manage,” she said. “Spaceflight is full of lots of little challenges. This is just one more that we’ll encounter and take care of in our mission, so we’re not too worried about it.” Following Crew-3’s launch, the next NASA and SpaceX crew rotation mission is Crew-4, currently targeted for launch in April 2022.

Lead image caption:

ESA (European Space Agency) astronaut Thomas Pesquet, left, NASA astronauts Megan McArthur and Shane Kimbrough, and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) astronaut Aki Hoshide, right, are seen inside the SpaceX Crew Dragon Endeavour spacecraft onboard the SpaceX GO Navigator recovery ship shortly after having landed in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Pensacola, Florida, Monday, Nov. 8, 2021. NASA’s SpaceX Crew-2 mission is the second operational mission of the SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft and Falcon 9 rocket to the International Space Station as part of the agency’s Commercial Crew Program. Credits: NASA/Aubrey Gemignani