How Do Astronauts ‘Poop’ In Space? NASA To Give $30,000 For Winning Solution

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is giving away $30,000 to anyone who can propose a “pooptacular” idea on how astronauts stationed in space can relieve themselves. The “Space Poop Challenge” calls for serious submissions as per a press release.

“NASA seeks proposed solutions for fecal, urine, and menstrual management systems to be used in the crew’s launch and entry suits over a continuous duration of up to 144 hours. An in-suit waste management system would be beneficial for contingency scenarios or for any long duration tasks.”

While the challenge sparked hilarious social media responses, the agency reminds readers that there are no toilets in space and that “while you may go about your life mostly unaffected by this, it is more of a challenge for our brave astronauts in their space suits. After all: when you gotta go, you gotta go. And sometimes you gotta go in a total vacuum.”

Before launching the Space Poop Challenge, astronauts have used highly absorbent adult diapers, but these do not necessarily solve the problem for they are only good for a day. Aspiring contestants must think of a poop system that will not only hold 75 grams of fecal mass per astronaut each day but also 1 liter of urine. It should also hold 80 milliliters of menstrual fluid.

The proposed system must function regardless of the crew members’ movements in their space suit. While the system might be sophisticated, the astronauts’ set up time should take no longer than five minutes. Most importantly, the system must last for six days without compromising the health, safety, and comfort of NASA’s crew members.

The Space Poop Challenge was launched for long-term space missions. Innovators must design their solutions based on the astronaut’s Modified Advanced Crew Escape Suit (MACES) which is meant for longer duration in the space as opposed to its ACES counterpart. NASA’s press release provides a background on MACES.

An astronaut’s way of living has always been considered baffling. The search engine alone will yield various inquiries from curious minds – how do astronauts sleep, bathe, eat, and even wash the dishes.

Italian astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti produced a video “tutorial” on how to use the restroom when you’re up on the International Space Station. Due to the astronaut’s weightlessness once in space, a suction plays a significant role.

The Orbital Outhouse Team member revealed that the seated space toilet comes with a fan that creates the suction. The absorbed waste then goes in a plastic bag which astronauts would insert into a waste container. The container is replaced every 10 days. Samantha said that the case is different for urine because it gets recycled.

Astronauts undergo a special training on how to use the toilet in space since they don’t really get to sit because of the weightlessness. In the 1960s, pooping in space was way tougher because astronauts relied on fecal collection bags that were attached to skin by adhesives. The process takes up to an hour.

NASA Astronaut on a mission
In this NASA handout, mission specialist, Astronaut Stephen K. Robinson, is anchored to a foot restraint on the International Space Station's Canadarm2 robotic arm, during his space walk to repair the underside of the space shutttle Discovery [Image by NASA via Getty Images]

With the help of the Space Poop Challenge, NASA hopes that pooping for their astronauts won’t be as burdensome anymore. NASA will grant one winner the generous cash prize. The entries will be judged based on nine factors including Soundness and Technical Readiness of the Design, Gas Conservation, Health and Safety, Suit Integrity, Speed, Ease of Use/Constraints, Comfort, Ease of Incorporation, and Other Benefits.

The agency will implement the winning solution in the next three or four years. Further specifications are outlined on the Hero X website. There is also a forum on the site that allows people to discuss ideas and ask clarifications about the mechanics. Submissions are accepted until December 20 while NASA will announce the winning entry on January 31, 2017.

[Featured Image by NASA/Getty Images]