The American space agency is seeking public submissions on how to deal with astronaut waste as we push further into our solar system
The problem, as NASA sees it, is figuring out how to boldly go to the toilet when our species is boldly going where it has never gone before. With interplanetary travel on the horizon, NASA is on the hunt for the ultimate design in adult nappies, with the task to create a diaper that can cope with “a continuous duration of up to 144 hours” of faecal, urine or menstrual waste.
The objective is to build a waste-management system that can fit into a space suit, with enough storage capacity to cover extended space walks and “contingency scenarios” – it’s safe to say that an emergency in space could well lead to some bathroom requirements.
NASA is crowdsourcing a solution, tasking the platform HeroX to find someone who can design a system capable of collecting up to 75g of faecal matter and a litre of urine a day for the better part of a week. The design must be hands-free, do its job within a microgravity environment, and prevent the leaking of oxygen. As a reward, NASA is offering $30,000 (€28,200) to the winning design, and the glory of knowing you’ve played a part in mankind’s greatest adventure.
“As humans push beyond low-Earth orbit, travel to the Moon and Mars, we will have many problems to solve — most of them complex technical problems,” said NASA astronaut Richard Mastracchio, in a video accompanying the HeroX project description. “But some are as simple as, ‘How do we go to the bathroom in space?'”
As it currently stands, astronauts answering the call of nature during a launch or spacewalk, which can last as long as eight hours, wear absorbent adult nappies. But with plans to push beyond the earth’s moon to Mars raise new questions and problems, with current designs ill-equipped to work for days on end. Adult nappies pose too high a risk of irritation or infection, with NASA ruling them out of the Modified Advanced Crew Escape Suit, the design the space agency has selected for future Orion craft missions to deep space.
“I can tell you that spaceflight is not always glamorous,” Mastracchio said. “People need to go to the bathroom, even in a spacecraft.”
NASA is accepting submissions for its Space Poop Challenge until December 20th, so should the eureka – or should that be poo-reka – moment strike you, you could help the eagle land in a very different way.