The Space Poop Challenge - NASA Is Offering $30,000 to Whoever Solves the Problem of Pooping in Space
When you gotta go, you gotta go! But what if you're in space, stuck in a spacesuit for hours on end, even days? The current solution is the good ol' diaper, but NASA is looking for something better, and is offering a prize of up to $30,000 to whoever comes up with the best idea.
Astronauts have access to some of the world's most advanced technologies, but when it comes to human waste management, they rely on a diaper. NASA spacecrafts do feature more advanced waste systems, but they can only be used when the astronauts aren't wearing their space suits. So during launches, landings, or in case of emergencies, they have to put on an uncomfortable space diaper. But that is only a temporary solution, as keeping the waste so close to the skin for longer than a few hours can lead to infection, and even sepsis.
NASA's scientists have apparently been unable to come up with a solution to this problem, and the agency is now looking to the rest of the world for suggestions. The newly launched Space Poop Challenge give anyone the chance to submit their ideas and designs for an alternative to the space diaper until December 20, for the chance to win up to $30,000.
But, just in case you've already thought of something, there are a few things applicants must take into consideration when designing their systems. In the case of cabin depressurization or other contingencies, astronauts could be forced to spend a long time in their space suits, so the proposed system has to be able to handle human waste without the use of hands for up to 144 hours.
Also, since crew member will have less than 60 minutes to get into and seal their spacesuit, the solution to the Space Poop Challenge needs to take no more than five minutes to integrate into the space suit. The system will also have to be light, and to be able to handle human waste at 3 to 4 Gs - the typical G-forces astronauts handle during a launch into Earth orbit.
And lastly, the system has to be designed for the unique conditions of space, where solids, fluids, and gases float in microgravity and don't mix the way they do on Earth.
"I can tell you that space flight is not always glamorous, and people need to go to the bathroom even in a spacecraft," astronaut Richard Mastracchio says in a promotional video for the Space Poop Challenge. "How is this waste treated such that it does not harm the astronaut or even kill them? This is the problem we are asking you to help us with."
The deadline for submitting ideas for the Space Poop Challenge is December 20th, and the winners will be announced in January.