There are many problems that must be solved before humans can travel to Mars including radiation, weightlessness, and space dementia, and NASA needs help solving one of the dirtiest issues.
NASA is asking the public to help a design a system that will collect and funnel human waste away from the astronaut’s body while they’re wearing spacesuits, according to Rick Mastracchio, a space station veteran.
“I can tell you that space flight is not always glamorous. People need to go to the bathroom even in a spacecraft.”
This may sound strange because the general public may assume there has been some Star Trek-style waste disposal system available for the past 50 years of spaceflight, but that’s not the case.
America has sent spacecraft past the very edge of the solar system and invented phones that talk to outer space, but disposing of simple human waste remains beyond us.
Today, astronauts wear heavy spacesuits during liftoff and spaceflight in case of an emergency and are required to wear diapers if they need to urinate or defecate, but that’s not a good long-term solution.
Until now, astronauts could spend up to 10 hours in their spacesuits, but with the approach of a manned Mars mission, NASA is preparing for crises that may last up to six days, 144 hours.
Before sending astronauts on a six-month journey to Mars, or even a trip to the moon, NASA needs a way to keep them clean and hygienic in case of a crisis. The space agency is planning for emergencies involving decompression that force astronauts to remain in their suits for an extended period of time and diapers aren’t the answer.
“Given enough time, infection, and even sepsis can set in. This is the problem we are asking you to help us with.”
Enter the NASA Deep Space Poop Challenge hosted by HeroX where members of the public could win $30,000 for helping design a human waste disposal system for the spacesuit.
“The US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) seeks proposed solutions for urine, fecal and menstrual management systems to be used in the crew’s launch and entry suits over a continuous duration of up to 144 hours.”
The space agency is offering three prizes for the top human waste disposal designs that can be integrated into the spacesuit and take no more than five minutes of the astronaut’s time to install, according to a NASA promotional video.
“[In case of an emergency] the crew member will have less than 60 minutes to get into and seal their spacesuit.”
Astronaut Rick Mastracchio offered would-be designers some tips on NASA’s video promoting the Space Poop Challenge.
The new NASA spacesuit appears big and bulky from the outside, but offers little room inside and isn’t built for comfort so waste disposal systems should be kept on the small side.
Astronauts may float freely while on mission but they will have to strap themselves into chairs for reentry where they will pull 4 to 5 g’s so the new system should be designed to withstand that pressure.
In a zero g environment, liquid will form spheres, but can still be absorbed normally by surrounding fabric and even a slight airflow will move it, and any surrounding solids, in a specific direction.
NASA’s Deep Space Poop Challenge is open until Dec. 20 and the names of three winners will be announced Jan. 31. The space agency plans to test the chosen solution next year and integrate it into the orange Modified Advanced Crew Escape Suit (MACES) in the next three years.
“Even though this technology is being developed for spaceflight like many NASA technologies it will have applications for use here on Earth.”
[Featured Image by NASA/Getty Images]