NASA issues $30,000 'space poop challenge' to solve age-old problem
Astronaut Aki Hoshide outside the International Space Station, on Sept. 5, 2012. (Nasa, Aki Hoshide / AP)
Published Wednesday, November 30, 2016 9:31AM EST
Last Updated Wednesday, November 30, 2016 9:41AM EST
Have you ever wanted to contribute to the future of space exploration?
Now’s your chance: NASA is looking for someone to develop a space suit that can collect human waste for up to six days.
Dubbed the “Space Poop Challenge,” NASA officials have launched the initiative with the offer of $30,000 in prize money for anyone who designs a hygienic space suit plumbing system of sorts.
In a video posted on Vimeo, veteran astronaut Richard Mastracchio explains why human waste is an important, and serious, challenge for future space missions.
In recent years, astronauts have only been travelling to low-Earth orbit, where it’s relatively easy for astronauts to travel back to Earth in hours, if they have to.
But, as NASA plans missions deeper into space, they are emphasizing the fundamental importance of dealing with human waste in astronauts’ space suits.
“Now that NASA’s is going beyond low-Earth orbit into lunar orbit and beyond, we have to figure out ways to keep astronauts alive and healthy for many days after a major malfunction, such as loss of vehicle pressure,” Mastracchio said.
Herein lies the challenge of what do to with poop.
“I can tell you that space flight is not always glamorous if people need to go to the bathroom, even in a space craft,” Mastracchio said. “How is this waste treated such that it does not harm the astronaut, or even kill them.
“Given enough time, infection, and even sepsis, can set in. This is a problem we are asking you to help us with.”
The “old standby solution,” NASA explains on the initiative’s website, relies on diapers for the astronauts. “However, the diaper is only a very temporary solution, and doesn’t provide a healthy/protective option longer than one day.”
NASA is looking for a system within the space suit that collects the fecal, urine and menstrual waste and “routes it away from the body, without the use of hands.”
Naturally, any system must be able to operate in space conditions – where solids, fluids and gases are subject to the laws of zero gravity.
Participants have until Dec. 20 to pitch their ideas for a system that “will help keep astronauts alive and healthy over six days, or 144 hrs.”
No big deal.