Just because NASA is reaching for the stars, doesn’t mean scatology is beneath them. And let’s be honest — an astronauts biggest fear, besides death, is probably the possibility they might shit their spacesuit. So NASA wants you to come up with a solution, and submit it as part of the all new “Space Poop Challenge” (yes, that’s the real name).
It’s simple: innovators are invited to develop fecal, urine, and menstrual management mechanisms and systems that can be integrated into spacesuits and work for us to six days at a time, for future astronauts who need to be outside of their habitats for extended periods of time.
Currently, NASA astronauts go with what they know and use diapers to deal with bodily fluid expulsions during rocket launches, spacecraft landings, and spacewalks. But diapers have one very obvious drawback — you’re sitting and standing in your own waste. Besides just feeling dirty, this can pose hazards to your own health.
So far, when it comes to missions at the ISS, diapers have worked okay. Astronauts aren’t really put in situations where they can’t change of those things for very long periods of time. But as we begin to take space exploration to new heights (moon colonization, Mars missions, asteroid mining, etc), it will be necessary to develop long-duration sanitation systems.
“In the event of cabin depressurization or other contingency,” NASA wrote, “crew members may need to take refuge in their launch and entry suits for a long-duration: 144 hours.
“The crew member will have less than 60 minutes to get into and seal their spacesuit. To ensure the crew member’s safety, the solution [proposed system] needs to take no more than five minutes [to set up and integrate with the spacesuit].”
The fact that the proposed poop system needs to work in microgravity means it has to function in a pressurized spacesuit — posing a logistical problem to participants, and forcing them to figure out how to keep unwanted fluids and debris from floating around or getting caught up in other spacesuit systems.
The Poop Challenge isn’t simply a theoretical experiment that will go nowhere. The winning proposal will be designed as a part of NASA’s Modified Advanced Crew Escape Suit and used by astronauts during the first crewed Orion spacecraft missions.
Interested in helping astronauts figure out their shit? You can submit your own proposal to the Space Poop Challenge here. The deadline is December 20.