NASA will test its new space poop collection system in 2021, when the agency returns U.S. astronauts to space for the first time since 2011.
NASA has held a contest with a pay out of $30,000 since September to anybody who figures out a way to handle fecal matter in a zero-gravity environment. The space agency has finished up the contest and will announce the winners on Feb. 16.
“In space, no one can hear you flush,” the agency’s website states. “This is because in space, there are no toilets. While you may go about your life mostly unaffected by this, it is more of a challenge for our brave astronauts in their space suits. After all: when you gotta go, you gotta go. And sometimes you gotta go in a total vacuum.”
NASA’s “Space Poop Challenge” aims to find a way to safely store human waste for up to 144 hours in spacesuits. NASA astronauts currently wear diapers to take care of their bodily needs while they’re launching, landing or spacewalking.
The diapers are only good for a few hours and can lead to health complications.
“The final waste management garment that is created won’t be used nominally, but only in certain emergency situations that require spending long durations in a pressurized suit,” Dr. Kristyn Johnson, one of the principal investigators for the study, told Space.com. “For shorter durations, during launch and entry, the crew will plan to use an adult diaper as it fits our needs and is something we’ve used in the past.”
A solution that could store an astronaut’s bodily waste for 144 hours has baffled NASA for a while, as it would have to work in a zero or low gravity environment within a pressurized spacesuit. This means would-be designers need to contend with floating water and waste.
Whatever the solution is, that suit is expected to be used by astronauts on the space agency’s Orion spacecraft, which will ultimately take NASA astronauts to Mars. Orion’s testing beings in September of 2018.
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