The future of spaceflight is packed with excitement. One of the most notable events coming up is the first launch of NASA’s Artemis program. The ambitious initiative aims to put a man back on the moon alongside the first woman to do so by 2024.
Getting there will be no easy task, however. There are endless challenges to face before astronauts can touch down on the lunar surface once again. Some are less exciting than others. For instance, designing a space toilet isn’t on the bucket list of many people.
To help solve this issue, NASA is turning to one of its favorite methods of problem-solving—crowdsourcing. It wants help designing a next-gen space toilet that will work in both microgravity and zero gravity.
Though it isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when thinking about traveling in space, going to the bathroom is actually quite tricky. Astronauts commonly find themselves in less-than-optimal situations when they need to do so. Of course, a space toilet already exists.
Astronauts living aboard the International Space Station (ISS) use it every day. Still, doing so isn’t easy. That’s why NASA is looking for help to make the process easier.
The space agency wants to design a new toilet that is both smaller and more efficient than the current version. More importantly, though, it wants the updated space commode to work in both the microgravity of the ISS and the weak gravity of the moon. Currently, space toilets only function in zero gravity.
On the moon, gravity’s pull is about one-sixth the strength of Earth’s. That means bodily fluids will fall towards the ground but will do so very slowly. It isn’t something pleasant to think about. That’s why Artemis astronauts need a better solution.
Everyday Heroes Needed
NASA knows that designing a space toilet isn’t the most exciting thing in the world (or off it). So, it’s offering $35,000 in prize money for clever inventors who are up to the task.
The space agency has turned over management of the contest to HeroX, a platform known for crowdsourcing various innovations. Anyone that’s interested in submitting an idea can do so on HeroX’s website.
However, there are some specific requirements that need to be met. Things like size, power consumption, mass, and accommodations for both male and female astronauts are taken into account. The toilet performance specifications are a fairly strict list of their own.
Those looking to go above and beyond can earn “bonus points” for designing a space toilet that can be used for collecting vomit from a sick astronaut without forcing them to stick their head into it. The contest guidelines note that emesis (throw up) bags will be the primary option for doing so. However, anyone who’s experienced a nasty bout of vomiting knows that a toilet is the better option.
For young creatives, NASA is hosting a separate competition category that’s open to anyone under 18 years old. The deadline for idea submissions is August 17.
It plans to announce winners on September 30 for the adult category and on October 20 for the junior division.