Help us improve poop on the moon

Has there ever been a more important duty? (heh … duty)

When Apollo astronauts went to the moon in the 1960s, they got there in a spaceship with exactly zero baths. To get to number one, NASA provided them with a rubber tube that the crew could put on like a condom. That would carry the urine to a storage container or space. For number two, the agency devised a cutting-edge, high-tech solution: poop bags.

For its next trip to the moon scheduled for 2024, NASA is really trying to prevent that from happening again.

“It was messy,” said Mike Interbartolo, one of the people working on NASA’s human lunar landing system, in an interview with the edge. “You had no odor control. The crew hated him. It was not easy to seal the bag well without your friend having to help. And that’s not the way we want to return to the Moon more than 50 years later. “

That was the impetus behind the Lunar Loo Challenge, an open call for new and innovative space toilet designs that NASA launched this week. Although several are already equipped on the International Space Station, those models are designed exclusively for use in microgravity, also known as that type of float. “Zero Gravity” that you see in the movies.

For moon-bound astronauts in their Artemis program, NASA is looking for a toilet that also works on the Moon’s surface, where gravity is about one-sixth that of Earth.

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“Designing and developing new lunar toilets may not be as exciting or intriguing as developing tools to support exploration of the lunar surface, but the need is just as important,” NASA said. in a publication outlining the contest.

“These astronauts will eat and drink, and then urinate and defecate in microgravity and lunar gravity. As long as the astronauts are in the cabin and out of their space suits, they will need a toilet that has the same capabilities as those here on Earth. “

The contest (that you can enter here) has a deadline of August 17 and a prize pool of $ 35,000 will be divided among the teams behind the top three designs, as decided by a panel of NASA engineers. There’s also a junior category for the under-18 crowd to submit designs.

Understandably, NASA has come up with a long list of specifications required for winning designs. In addition to being of a certain size and weight, the toilet must be energy efficient, not time consuming and accommodating both women and men, as NASA’s Artemis program aims to send the first woman to the moon along with the next man. This lunar throne must also be capable of containing a rainbow of bodily excretions, including “urine, feces, vomiting, diarrhea, [and] menses.”

“Going to shit on the Moon is not a priority, but we don’t want it to be a miserable experience for the crew,” Interbartolo, who is also the project manager for the challenge, told Verge. “We want it to be as comfortable and as close to home life as possible.”

As part of the Artemis program, astronauts could spend up to six and a half days on the surface of the Moon, so holding it is not an option. To be sure, NASA’s guidelines for the Lunar Loo Challenge specify that the winning designs must be capable of supporting a crew of two astronauts for at least 14 days.

Although I’m excited to see what people come up with, it’s true that the bar is pretty low when you remember how the Apollo 11 team was doing it wrong. Basically, as long as the solution doesn’t involve tying a bag to an astronaut’s butt, it will be a noticeable improvement.