At about 8 pm EST today, the first all-civilian—as in no professional astronauts, no backing from a national space agency or military—crew will orbit the Earth in a commercial space capsule. This is a big deal, but all I can really focus on is the fact that the capsule will include a toilet with a glass dome over your head, so as you evacuate your bowels and void your bladder, you can marvel at the unending wonder of the universe.
The spacecraft is the SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule Resilience, which has flown to the International Space Station before, and has been modified for the orbital mission known as Inspiration 4, so named for the four civilians who will be living in the capsule for three days in orbit: Jared Isaacman, the rich dude who chartered the whole thing; Dr.Sian Proctor, a geoscience professor and longtime space exploration advocate; Hayley Arcenaux, a physician assistant and cancer survivor, and Chris Sembroski, an aeronautical engineer and former space camp counselor.
Normally, the Crew Dragon capsule carries a docking port in its nose, under a hinged cap, which is used to dock to the ISS. The Inspiration 4 mission will not be docking to the ISS (or anything else, at least that anyone is aware of) so the docking port was removed and replaced with a clear dome, the largest unbroken expanse of transparent anything (you know, a window) that has ever been sent into space.
It’s pretty amazing, and the view from inside that dome should be incredible. The ISS has something similar, a module called the Cupola that’s docked to one of the labs and provides a good, dome-like view of the Earth and space, though it does have a framework that looks a bit like the view out the front window of a TIE fighter:
Now, here’s the other thing about that dome on the Crew Dragon: it’s right above the toilet. Yes, unlike the Apollo Command Module that took astronauts to the moon, which had its waste management system below and behind the seats, as you can see here
...the Crew Dragon has its toilet above the main seats, in the nose of the vehicle, where it’s separated by some sort of modesty curtain. For whatever reason, SpaceX hasn’t talked much about the toilet’s design, but it’s allegedly similar to the hose-and-funnel and seat sort of setup used by the Space Shuttle and, in a more primitive form, the Soviet/Russian Soyuz capsules.
So, what this means is that when you’re sitting on the toilet in the Resilience, your head should be right there in the dome, able to simultaneously take in the majesty of seeing Earth from space, as well as letting the entire universe watch your face contort and strain as you attempt to craft a healthy bowel movement in the unfamiliar microgravity environment, trying to ignore your three crewmates right below you, separated by a thin bit of curtain.
Or, maybe you’ll just be staring at your phone, like how you shit on Earth. But I don’t recommend that.
I also noticed another confusing detail regarding the modifications to the Crew Dragon for this mission, but I don’t think it’s accurate:
See that diagram of the Crew Dragon, and the lower, cylindrical module? That’s the trunk. It has the craft’s solar panels and some stabilizing fins, and is normally an unpressurized volume used for cargo. But in this diagram, it’s labeled as being “used as a living space during the flight” which I do not think is possible, because the Crew Dragon has no hatch in its heat shield to get in there. So, I say ignore this.
If you want to watch the launch, you can tune in starting at 3:45 here on SpaceX’s livestream:
This mission is a big deal for commercial spaceflight, and I’m excited to see how it plays out.
I just hope these civilian astronauts aren’t squeamish or shy about giving detailed descriptions of how their mind-expanding, universe-observing shits go, because I want to know.