Sometimes the "call of nature" is really urgent – and if you're in a spacesuit, you can't easily rush to the bathroom.
That's why NASA has created the "Space Poop Challenge." The agency is asking innovators to create fecal, urine and menstrual management systems for spacesuits, that would work for up to six days. Up to $30,000 in prize money is up for grabs.
NASA astronauts wear diapers to take care of their bodily needs while they're launching, landing or spacewalking. However, these diapers are only good for a few hours; sitting in poop, urine or menstrual fluid for more than that is bad for your health, and your backside, besides. [How to Pee in Space (and What to Do If the Toilet Breaks)]
"Future missions may require long-duration waste management for use by a pressurized suited crew member," NASA wrote in a statement on HeroX, a website where people or organizations can host incentive-based competitions.
"In the event of cabin depressurization or other contingency, crew members may need to take refuge in their launch and entry suits for a long-duration: 144 hours," according to the statement. "The crew member will have less than 60 minutes to get into and seal their spacesuit. To ensure the crew member's safety, the solution [proposed system] needs to take no more than five minutes [to set up and integrate with the spacesuit]."
Further complicating the challenge is the requirement that the system work in microgravity, in a pressurized spacesuit. This means would-be designers need to contend with floating water and debris that everybody really, really wants to keep far away from human orifices or vital spacesuit systems.
The new system will be designed for NASA's Modified Advanced Crew Escape Suit, an improvement on the orange spacesuit used for shuttle launches and landings. That suit is expected to be used by astronauts on the Orion spacecraft.
The submission deadline for the Space Poop Challenge is Dec. 20, and winners will be announced Jan. 31, 2017. You can see all the guidelines and rules on this website. https://herox.com/SpacePoop/
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Elizabeth Howell (she/her), Ph.D., is a staff writer in the spaceflight channel since 2022 covering diversity, education and gaming as well. She was contributing writer for Space.com for 10 years before joining full-time. Elizabeth's reporting includes multiple exclusives with the White House and Office of the Vice-President of the United States, an exclusive conversation with aspiring space tourist (and NSYNC bassist) Lance Bass, speaking several times with the International Space Station, witnessing five human spaceflight launches on two continents, flying parabolic, working inside a spacesuit, and participating in a simulated Mars mission. Her latest book, "Why Am I Taller?", is co-written with astronaut Dave Williams. Elizabeth holds a Ph.D. and M.Sc. in Space Studies from the University of North Dakota, a Bachelor of Journalism from Canada's Carleton University and a Bachelor of History from Canada's Athabasca University. Elizabeth is also a post-secondary instructor in communications and science at several institutions since 2015; her experience includes developing and teaching an astronomy course at Canada's Algonquin College (with Indigenous content as well) to more than 1,000 students since 2020. Elizabeth first got interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, and still wants to be an astronaut someday. Mastodon: https://qoto.org/@howellspace