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NASA wants your ideas to reuse trash and waste on a Mars mission

Artist's illustration of a crewed Mars base.
Artist's illustration of a crewed Mars base. (Image credit: Pat Rawlings/NASA)

NASA just opened a challenge seeking ways to go to Mars and back with a minimum of wasted materials.

The agency's tournament lab, along with crowdsourcing platform HeroX, have launched a "Waste to Base" challenge (opens in new tab) looking for ideas to recycle trash, waste, carbon dioxide and foam packaging materials during a two- to three-year crewed Red Planet mission.

Competitors have until March 15 to enter the challenge, and several prizes of up to $1,000 each will be awarded for novel ideas, out of a total purse of $24,000. The winner should be announced by April 22, according to the challenge website. 

Related: Plastic recycler will turn space station trash into 3D printing stock

"This challenge is all about finding ways to convert waste into base materials and other useful things, like propellant or feedstock for 3D printing," the website stated. 

"The challenge is looking for your ideas for how to convert different waste streams into propellant, and into useful materials, that can then be made into needed things and cycled through multiple times. While a perfectly efficient cycle is unlikely, ideal solutions will result in little to no waste."

Full eligibility requirements are available on the contest website (opens in new tab); generally speaking, anyone in the world 18 years of age or older may participate individually or as a team, as long as their jurisdiction is not under United States federal sanctions, HeroX said.

An artist's conception of an astronaut on Mars.

An artist's conception of an astronaut on Mars. (Image credit: dottedhippo via Getty Images)

The winning ideas are expected to be put into a whitepaper as "part of the roadmap for future technology development work" for NASA's logistics reduction project, which is working on matters such as new spacecraft and future settlements, the challenge description noted.

While NASA hasn't yet set a firm timeline for putting humans on Mars, the agency speculated in recent years that it may be able to get there by the mid-2030s. In the shorter term, the agency is hoping to put Artemis astronauts on the moon by the mid-2020s. Moon missions may help inform the design for future Mars missions.

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Elizabeth Howell
Staff Writer, Spaceflight

Elizabeth Howell, Ph.D., is a staff writer in the spaceflight channel since 2022. She was contributing writer for (opens in new tab) for 10 years before that, since 2012. As a proud Trekkie and Canadian, she also tackles topics like diversity, science fiction, astronomy and gaming to help others explore the universe. Elizabeth's on-site reporting includes two human spaceflight launches from Kazakhstan, three space shuttle missions in Florida, and embedded reporting from a simulated Mars mission in Utah. She holds a Ph.D. and M.Sc. in Space Studies from the University of North Dakota, and a Bachelor of Journalism from Canada's Carleton University. Elizabeth is also a post-secondary instructor in communications and science since 2015. Her latest book, Leadership Moments from NASA, is co-written with astronaut Dave Williams. Elizabeth first got interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, and still wants to be an astronaut someday.