- SpaceX could launch the world’s first all-civilian crew into orbit as soon as September.
- The Inspiration4 crew will have a glass dome, or “cupola,” on their Crew Dragon spaceship.
- That’s where SpaceX’s mysterious toilet is, according to mission commander Jared Isaacman.
- See more stories on Insider’s business page.
SpaceX’s first civilian crew is poised to enjoy what may be the best bathroom views in human history.
It’s not clear how the toilet facilities work on SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spaceship – the design is shrouded in proprietary secrecy. But we do know that the toilet is on the ceiling. That area of the spaceship will also feature a glass dome, called a cupola, that SpaceX is installing at the nose of the capsule.
So while passengers are using the toilet, they’ll be able to gaze out the windows, according to Jared Isaacman, a billionaire entrepreneur and jet pilot who purchased four seats on SpaceX’s spaceship for a civilian mission to space. The trip will be the first orbital spaceflight ever with no professional astronauts on board. It will also feature the first space toilet with a 360-degree view.
“It’s not a ton of privacy. But you do have this kind of privacy curtain that cuts across the top of the spacecraft, so you can kind of separate yourself from everyone else,” Isaacman, who will be commanding the mission, told Insider. “And that also happens to be where the glass cupola is. So, you know, when people do inevitably have to use the bathroom, they’re going to have one hell of a view.”
Isaacman’s planned journey, a mission called Inspiration4, could launch as soon as September 15. The group is expected to orbit Earth at an altitude higher than the International Space Station (ISS) for three days, enjoying the views and conducting science experiments while they’re there. Isaacman gave the other three Crew Dragon seats to physician-assistant Hayley Arceneaux, Air Force vet and engineer Chris Sembroski, and scientist and analogue astronaut Dr. Sian Proctor.
Inspiration4 aims to kick off a new era of space tourism – alongside Jeff Bezos’s plans to peek above the edge of space for three minutes on July 20 (though that’s a suborbital flight), and a mission next year that aims to send three paying customers to the ISS aboard a Crew Dragon capsule.
SpaceX has flown professional astronauts to the space station for NASA three times, but none of those spaceships had a cupola. That’s because the capsules’ noses needed to dock to the ISS so that the astronauts could climb into the orbiting laboratory. Since the Inspiration4 crew won’t be docking to anything, SpaceX is replacing the docking mechanism with a window that passengers can stand in.
“Probably most ‘in space’ you could possibly feel by being in a glass dome,” Elon Musk, SpaceX’s founder and chief engineer, said of the new cupola on Twitter.
The Inspiration4 crew is learning to use the spaceship’s toilet
Isaacman, a self-described “space geek,” started the payment-processing company Shift4 when he was 16 years old. He is still the company’s CEO. He also founded Draken International, which owns a large fleet of ex-military aircraft and trains Air Force and other pilots. Isaacman sold his majority stake in that company for “a nine-figure sum,” according to Forbes, which estimates his net worth at $2.9 billion.
Isaacman flies jets in his free time and has circumnavigated the globe at least twice. When he learned that he could buy a Crew Dragon flight, he jumped at the chance. Though neither SpaceX nor Isaacman has said how much he paid, NASA has estimated such a flight might cost $55 million per seat.
As part of the Inspiration4 mission, Isaacman is working with St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital to plan science experiments for the crew to do while in orbit. The four crew members also plan to draw each other’s blood, take skin samples, and perform cognitive tests to help NASA gather data about how spaceflight affects the human body.
SpaceX and NASA have both declined to reveal details about the location or design of Crew Dragon’s toilet, but the spaceship’s prior passengers have offered clues.
The toilet “works very similar to the one we were used to in the Space Shuttle, and it worked very well. We had no issues with it,” NASA astronaut Doug Hurley told reporters after launching to the ISS on the Crew Dragon’s first crewed flight last year.
The toilets on the Space Shuttle and on Russia’s Soyuz spacecraft involved rudimentary hose and bag systems, so it’s likely the Crew Dragon’s resembles those. For civilians like Isaacman and his crewmates, this might be an adjustment. Even NASA Astronaut Peggy Whitson previously told Business Insider that going to the bathroom might have been the worst part about life in space.
Learning to use the toilet is part of the intensive pre-flight training for Inspiration4, according to Isaacman.
“We’re just gonna have to work through it,” he said.