NASA is offering up to $20,000 to anyone who can design a better space toilet for astronauts sent to the moon
NASA doesn't want bulky space diapers or large shuttle toilets, so the agency is asking for help designing its new toilet for astronauts going to the moon.
Smithsonian / Dave Mosher / Business Insider
NASA needs a new toilet to get to the moon - one that works for all astronauts and works both in zero gravity and on the surface of the moon.
The agency offers crowdsourcing ideas for the toilet with a "Lunar Loo" challenge. The main prize is $ 20,000.
In the past, most space toilets were little more than a bag and a hose with a vacuum.
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When people last landed on the lunar surface in December 1972, they were wearing all the diapers.
This is because NASA has never really bothered to design a proper toilet for the Apollo lunar missions. Instead, astronauts pissed in roller cuffs, pooped in bags, and used space diapers as they ventured out of the spaceship in their large, bulky spacesuits.
"Defecation and urination have been disruptive aspects of spaceflight since the beginning of manned spaceflight," said an official NASA report on the Apollo missions, released in 1975.
Almost five decades later, as the U.S. prepares to bring astronauts to the lunar surface by 2024, the space agency hopes to make things a little more comfortable.
"The astronauts were firmly convinced that they didn't want to go back to the Apollo bags," Mike Interbartolo, part of NASA's Mondlander engineering team, told Business Insider.
This time NASA is putting together a new toilet design for the Artemis lunar lander and is launching a "Lunar Loo" competition on HeroX.
"We need a toilet that has to work on the lunar surface for seven days and during this transit time to and from the moon," said Interbartolo.
This means that the toilet system must be able to function both in microgravity in space and in lunar gravity, which corresponds to approximately one sixth of earth's gravity. The toilet must also be usable for all astronauts, regardless of gender - something that the first space baths were definitely not.
Going to the bathroom is not glamorous
The Italian astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti demonstrated how to use the Russian toilet on the International Space Station in 2015.
YouTube / ESA
NASA hasn't changed much about how astronauts relax in space since they designed their first toilets.
The first U.S. room toilet designed for Skylab in the 1970s was essentially a hole in the wall. Today, astronauts on the International Space Station use a funnel that is equipped with a fan that sucks their piss off, but they still have to bag their feces. You have described it as one of the most disturbing aspects of life in space.
Russia has designed the latest space toilet to operate on the ISS - a $ 19 million device that has been around since 2008. And SpaceX's new and mysterious chest of drawers on its Crew Dragon spacecraft is likely to use a basic tube-bag system, similar to that on Russia's Soyuz spacecraft.
But 2020 will be a banner year for US space toilets: A new urine recycling model for the ISS is in the works and is expected to arrive there before the end of this year.
However, the moon toilet will be a little more difficult to develop. In addition to having to work in both zero gravity and lunar gravity, it has to be much smaller and lighter than existing space toilets so that NASA doesn't have to waste a lot of fuel that it shoots up and down on the lunar surface.
This is where "hackers", "makers", "basement hobbyists" and "garage mad scientists" all over the world come into play, said Interbartolo.
"We want this different perspective to open our eyes to unknown strangers in the next few months of this challenge. Because we focus so much on what a space toilet is, there may be several things we are not aware of out there," he said.
It is very similar to the NASA and HeroX Space Poop Challenge 2017, in which Dr. Thatcher Cardon, a flight surgeon and U.S. Air Force colonel, invented a way to go to the bathroom in a diaper-free spacesuit and take home $ 15,000.
Dr.'s system Thatcher Cardon depends on an airlock connection that allows astronauts to push items such as inflatable bedpan and room underwear in and out of their suits without depressurizing them.
Courtesy of Dr. Thatcher Cardon; Business insider
The new room toilet must be small, quiet and easy to use
With a mass of no more than 15 kilograms and a maximum volume of 0.12 cubic meters, the new room toilet would be smaller than the typical mini refrigerator.
NASA's guidelines for the challenge state that the toilet should be easy to clean and maintain, with a maximum processing time of 5 minutes between uses. Competitive toilet designs are easy for astronauts to use and should save water while containing odors.
"There is a possibility that there is some kind of bag in the toilet system for the microgravity scenario just because the body doesn't let go of some of these things so easily, you know," said Interbartolo.
NASA guidelines also state that the new toilet:
Function in both microgravity and lunar gravity.
Have a mass of less than 15 kg in the Earth's gravity.
Have a volume of no more than 0.12 m3.
Consume less than 70 watts of power.
Work with a noise level of less than 60 decibels (no louder than your average bathroom fan).
Include both female and male users.
Space for users 58 to 77 inches tall and 107 to 290 pounds in weight.
"Bonus points are given for designs that can catch vomit without the crew member having to put their head in the toilet," said NASA.
The deadline for submitting toilet designs ends on August 17th at 5:00 p.m. ET. Prizes are $ 20,000 for first place, $ 10,000 for second place, and $ 5,000 for third place.
Children ages 11 to 18 can also submit their ideas for the lunar toilet, but they compete for public recognition and some NASA loot, not cash.
"The big thing is that it can't break the laws of physics," said Interbartolo.
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