NASA on the hunt for space poop geniuses

NASA vowed to award up to three $30,000 prizes for the most promising in-suit waste management systems
NASA vowed to award up to three $30,000 prizes for the most promising in-suit waste management systems

When you've got to go, but you're out there in space, zipped up in a spacesuit, with no toilet in sight and a crew of other astronauts around, what do you do?

NASA has launched a contest for inventors to solve this uncomfortable issue, and promises to award $30,000 to the best " poop" solutions.

Inventors have until December 20 to submit designs for a personalized waste-wicking system that will handle everything, hands-free, for a period of up to six days.

"The old standby solution consisted of diapers," said the description of contest details at www.herox.com/SpacePoop.

"However, the diaper is only a very temporary solution, and doesn't provide a healthy/protective option longer than one day."

Sometimes, astronauts have to wait even longer. The two men and one woman who packed themselves into a Russian Soyuz space capsule last week had to wait two full days between launching from Kazakhstan and arriving at the International Space Station.

The Soyuz is equipped with a portable toilet, which looks like an air-powered pee jug.

On future missions to deep space destinations like an asteroid or Mars, NASA suspects it could take up to 144 hours, or six days, to get to a proper toilet.

In emergency situations, astronauts may need to zip themselves into a fully pressurized, bulky orange spacesuit, complete with helmet and gloves.

"While sealed, it is impossible for an astronaut to access their own body, even to scratch their nose," NASA said.

That's where the inventors come in. Astronauts need some way to clear away urine, fecal matter and menstrual blood efficiently, or they risk infection.

The problem is that in weightlessness, fluids can blob up and stick to surfaces, while solids float in the air.

"You don't want any of these solids and fluids stuck to your body for six days," NASA said, recalling how easy babies can get diaper rash.

Currently, while at the International Space Station, use a toilet contraption that includes a vacuum and a tube to help evacuate fecal matter.

To urinate, they use a funnel attached to a hose that can be adapted for a sitting or standing position, and uses air to move urine away.

NASA vowed to award up to three $30,000 prizes for the most promising in-suit waste management systems.

The goal is to test them within a year and fully implement them within three years.

NASA says the first human missions to Mars could take place by the 2030s.


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Soyuz capsule docks with International Space Station

© 2016 AFP

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User comments

Nov 23, 2016
I think the best solution is worth 30M USD , not lousy 30k
Let them up the ante first . Don't waste your creativity … 

Mine is worth 27M ;)

Nov 23, 2016
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Nov 23, 2016
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Nov 24, 2016
Whatever the ultimate solution, it's pretty much going to have to involve graphene.

Nov 24, 2016
What was the system NASA used for the Moon landing?
Where those blueprints lost?

Nov 25, 2016
Surely this is just a zip lock / draw string bag that is attached to the suits scrotum. when full, you simply zip shut and detach! attach a new bag and away you go? you could even collect the solids and liquids together, they will solidify in the cold of space and be stored to be re-used later as fertiliser etc...

Nov 26, 2016
There are certain materials that will absorb moisture and blood and protect the skin, once through the membrane, it combines with a specific material and becomes a solid, easy to remove. As for the feces, that is something I will have to think about...

Nov 26, 2016
Is the stool loose, creamy, or formed. The texture is important, a specific diet could be implemented 3 days prior to launch resulting in a texture that is easy to take care of in other ways.

Nov 28, 2016
I think a rotating living squadron would solve a big number of problems... not only the pee problem but the most problematic muscle and bone loss issues would be less critical...
The big technical problem is the bridge between the laboratory and living space... I would recommend a special airlock mechanism what once rotating as it connects to living space and standing when connecting to laboratory modules...

Dec 04, 2016
strickl maybe right about the diet for a norm of solids. It may also lead to frozen poop pills or stool screening. No shit.
I wonder what some of the more creative solutions could be. Maybe a mini bidet. Or an enema that sprays and then pulls out with piping like one of those gag diver lung tests.
Maybe a protoplasma that eats poop and crawls back into the bag. If you could magnetize the poop it might be safer than trying to melt it.

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