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TRENDING SCIENCE: Can you design a toilet for space? Then NASA wants you!

NASA launches competition asking for innovative design concepts for toilets that can operate on the moon.

Fundamental Research

The last time humans landed on the moon in 1972, they wore nappies! Nearly half a century later, NASA plans to do things differently than the historic Apollo 11 mission. In partnership with HeroX’s crowdsourcing platform, NASA announced the Lunar Loo Challenge, a competition to come up with ideas for the best space toilet for the next moon mission in 2024. The toilet needs to cater to male and female users, in space and on the moon’s surface.

Designing a proper toilet for space

In a news item, NASA paints a vivid picture of what it’s looking for: “These astronauts will be eating and drinking, and subsequently urinating and defecating in microgravity and lunar gravity. While astronauts are in the cabin and out of their spacesuits, they will need a toilet that has all the same capabilities as ones here on Earth.” “The astronauts were adamant that they do not want to go back to the Apollo bags,” Lunar Loo Challenge project manager Mike Interbartolo told ‘Business Insider’. “We need a toilet that needs to work for seven days on the surface of the moon, as well as during that transit time to and from the moon.” HeroX provides all the guidelines, toilet design and performance specifications. In addition to working in both microgravity (very weak gravity) and lunar gravity – about a sixth of Earth’s gravity – the toilet needs to be smaller, lighter and more efficient than existing space toilets. Current toilets are designed for microgravity only. The toilet needs to support a crew of two astronauts. Room is an issue because it must weigh less than 15 kg on Earth and be under 0.12 m3 in volume. The toilet should use less than 70 W of power and make less noise than a conventional bathroom fan. It also needs to have a turnaround time of 5 minutes or less between uses.

Seeking would-be innovators, both young and old

“We want that different perspective over the next couple months of this challenge to really kind of open our eyes to the unknown unknowns that, since we’re so tightly focused on what a space toilet is, maybe there are different things that we’re not aware of out there,” Interbartolo explained. “We’re looking outside the box … We want to tap into those garage thinkers, the maker space community,” Interbartolo told ‘The Guardian’. The top three entrants will share a total prize purse of USD 35 000 (about EUR 31 000). What makes this contest unique is that it doesn’t only want to attract new and innovative solutions from space explorers, engineers and scientists. It’s looking for a fresh perspective from an untapped target audience. There’s an under-18 category for submitting design ideas. The top three participants will each receive public recognition and official merchandise from NASA. The new toilet is destined for Artemis, NASA’s programme to land the first woman and the next man on the moon. “As we prepare for this extraordinary event, we can’t forget about the ordinary needs of our astronauts,” notes Interbartolo. Want to accept NASA’s challenge for human waste management in space? The contest ends 17 August, so hurry and get your ideas in! Don’t forget about your children!

Keywords

NASA, toilet, moon, Lunar Loo Challenge, HeroX, waste management