The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has set an exciting, yet ambitious timeline to get us back to the moon by 2024! But instead of merely planting a flag, playing a round of golf, and collecting some rocks to bring home, NASA hopes to establish a permanent lunar base that will eventually act as the launching point for crewed missions to Mars.
If humans are to settle on the moon en route to exploring the “final frontier,” they’ll also need to figure out how to perform many tasks in reduced gravity that we terrestrials take for granted, such as using the loo. And so, to help mankind “go” where no man has gone before, NASA just launched the “Lunar Loo Challenge”.
Though space toilets already exist, they only work in microgravity (weightlessness), and they’re not the most efficient or appealing to use. So NASA is looking to the public to help design a better solution. According to the challenge overview:
NASA is looking for a next-generation device that is smaller, more efficient, and capable of working in both microgravity and lunar gravity. Getting back to the Moon by 2024 is an ambitious goal, and NASA is already working on approaches to miniaturize and streamline the existing toilets. But they are also inviting ideas from the global community, knowing that they will approach the problem with a mindset different from traditional aerospace engineering. This challenge hopes to attract radically new and different approaches to the problem of human waste capture and containment.
Most of the requirements for the winning design are what you’d expect for a moon toilet: it must be able to operate in both lunar and microgravity with specific size, power consumption, and noise level restrictions, and be able to accommodate both males and females of various heights and weights. It must also be able to dispose not only bodily waste, but also female menses and toilet hygiene products. Somewhat humorously, the guidelines also state that “bonus points will be awarded to designs that can capture vomit without requiring the crew member to put his/her head in the toilet.” A suction mask that somehow prevents aspiration pneumonia would probably do the trick, so best of luck to whoever designs the appropriate valve!
If you’re interested in answering NASA’s call to help astronauts answer nature’s call, you can submit your ideas until August 17. The competition is open to anyone (even kids). Winners will be announced on September 30, and the top three winning ideas will share a $35,000 prize and be invited to talk more about their ideas with NASA engineers.
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