Since the first astronauts (or cosmonauts) first launched into space, moving the bowels or pooping in deep space has posed a still enormous problem. This one actually has NASA stumped for decades, even if it requires its astronauts to wear adult diapers, but this only adds to the problem in discarding the diapers with the poop inside. And so, since the problem is starting to smell bad, NASA has decided to seek help from all the brainy geeks out there to solve this problem by taking NASA’s “Space Poop Challenge.” The National Aeronautics and Space Administration wants to boldly go where no poop, or diaper, has gone before. The space agency is attempting to find a viable system to dispose of fecal, urine, and menstrual waste either immediately or after 6 days. The technology must be integrated into a spacesuit and will be needed even for extended tasks in space as well as “emergency contingency situations.”
To get on the road to solve this problem, NASA has tapped crowdfunding platform HeroX to source a system that can collect up to 75 grams of fecal matter and 1 liter of urine per day, for six days. The system must be hands-free, can operate in microgravity, and prevent leaking precious oxygen. The reward is $30,000 for anyone’s efforts, plus the knowledge that the system that will bear the inventor’s name will one day take care of an astronaut’s loin needs. As NASA and other space agencies are gearing to push to colonize the moon and possibly Mars, most of the complex problems being solved and focused on are technical in nature. But then, as the saying goes, even a simple problem can become complicated if not solved soon. So, how does one get to the “loo” (as British astronauts would say) if you’re walking in space?
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At present, astronauts who need to move their bowels or take a dump during rocket launches or spacewalks – sometimes lasting up to eight hours – need to rely on absorbent diapers. But diapers are not viable long-term solutions when astronauts go out into lunar orbit or beyond. And should it become necessary to keep astronauts alive for days wearing a spacesuit, diapers pose too large a risk of irritation or infection. The new system must work with the Modified Advanced Crew Escape Suit, the suit NASA plans to use on the future Orion craft missions to deep space. The reality for those who want to become astronauts is that spaceflight is not always glamorous. People still need to go to the bathroom, even in a spacecraft and in deep space. NASA began accepting submissions for the Space Poop Challenge since last October, but competition may have become more competitive as the challenge is recently picking up media steam. Anyone wishing to solve NASA’s problems still has a few weeks left until the deadline on December 20. And the winner gets to tell NASA the best way to poop in a space suit.