NASA is running a contest to see if anyone can come up with a viable solution to getting rid of body waste while in space.
The “Space Poop Challenge” is the latest initiative of the NASA Tournament Lab, which invites members of the public to submit “novel ideas or solutions” for problems in space – in this case, pooping in a spacesuit. The challenge is hosted on HeroX, a crowdsourcing platform, NPR reports.
The actual challenge is: create an “in-suit waste management system” that can take care of six days’ worth of bathroom needs.
The winner gets a whopping $30,000 for design ingenuity and functionality.
The question of astronauts relieving themselves in space has been resolved a long time ago. The crew at the International Space Station that orbits the Earth have contraptions with fans, vacuums, hoses and sealed bags to take care of waste disposal.
But these space toilets are not hands-free, nor are they suitable for pressurized spacesuits. HeroX says, “How has NASA handled this in the past? Well, for one thing, they weren’t handling it for 6 days.”
Astronauts in spacesuits wear adult diapers to deal with excrement, which is fine for a few hours. But if NASA sends someone on a mission that calls for spending days in a suit, diapers are definitely not up to the task. The same goes for emergency situations where astronauts might need to stay in their suits for long periods of time.
NASA is searching for a way to collect feces, urine and menstrual fluid without relying on gravity, then keep the waste away from the body. Other qualifications are: the astronaut also has to be able to move, sit and squeeze into tight spaces, the contraption should be deployed in less than five minutes, it must not cause any air leakage in the suit, has to be hands-free in operation, and needs to work for men and women of all shapes and sizes. Ideally, this portable potty must be comfortable to use, as well.
As of now, there is nothing on the market that comes even close to achieving these things, NASA says. “Current commercial products that provide urine waste management utilize gravity to route and collect urine away from the body. Some require the use of hands,” HeroX says. “No commercial products have been found that provide fecal waste management for a 144-hour period with or without the use of hands.”
Of all the ideas submitted through the project, up to three will be awarded. Deadline for submissions is on December 20.