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NASA seeks ideas for outer space outhouse offering $20,000 prize for winning loo

New design must be both female, male user-friendly

File photo: NASA astronaut Serena Auñón-Chancellor performs plumbing duties inside the International Space Station's toilet, also known as the Waste and Hygiene Compartment, located in the U.S. Tranquility module. (Image: NASA)
File photo: NASA astronaut Serena Auñón-Chancellor performs plumbing duties inside the International Space Station's toilet, also known as the Waste and Hygiene Compartment, located in the U.S. Tranquility module. (Image: NASA) (WKMG 2020)

If NASA wants to send humans back to the moon the space agency needs to make sure the astronauts that go can go while on the lunar surface. That’s right, NASA needs a new space toilet.

The U.S. space agency launched a challenge Thursday through HeroX, a platform that uses crowdsourcing to solve problems. In this case, to find a solution to NASA’s loo problem.

Here’s the quick and dirty on the space potty situation: The last astronauts who went to the moon under the Apollo program wore diapers. Other toilets including on the International Space Station have involved a hose and vacuum situation. Neither of those options are going to work this time around, according to NASA.

The current toilet used for the ISS won’t work on the lunar surface because it’s designed for microgravity only. The moon has one-sixth of Earth’s gravity meaning poop falls down instead of floating away.

NASA: The toilet on the orbiting space station is even more antiquated
NASA: The toilet on the orbiting space station is even more antiquated ((Image: NASA))

To handle the trip to the moon and after landing, NASA is seeking designs that work both with and without gravity.

NASA listed all the things the agency would like to see in a lunar loo.

Here are a few boxes to check off:

1. Lunar toilet design concepts should allow astronauts to urinate and defecate in both microgravity and lunar gravity.

2. The need to be able to handle about two weeks worth of all bodily fluids from both women and men.

3. Bonus points will be awarded to designs that can capture vomit without requiring the crew member to put his/her head in the toilet.

4. The designs will need to be adaptable to work with NASA’s commercial partners designing landers for the moon.

All the specific guidelines and design specifications can be found here, including how much human waste the toilet designs need to be able to handle.

NASA’s Lunar Loo Challenge has two categories: Technical, for applicants above 18 years old, and the junior category, for anyone under 18.

First place in the technical category could earn a $20,000 cash prize. Second place gets $10,000 and third place will receive $5,000. In total, that’s about 1,750 bags of Costco-sized toilet paper.

However, the best part isn’t the cash prize but the chance to talk directly with NASA engineers and possibly with an astronaut about the proposed toilet design.

Design winners will also get a private tour of NASA’s Johnson Space Center.

The junior category winner will nab a NASA gear, exclusive bragging rights and a “mystery” prize, according to the rules.

The deadline to submit toilet design concepts for both the junior and technical categories is August 17. The winners for the Technical category will be announced on September 30, and the winners for the Junior category will be announced on October 20.

HeroX opened the challenge to submissions Thursday.

Ready, set, go!


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