NASA is calling on the global community for toilet designs that will work both in microgravity and lunar gravity. For this, the space agency has tied up with HeroX to launch a Lunar Loo Challenge on Thursday. Interbartolo is the project manager for the Challenge.
Space toilet technology has come some way from the grim Apollo years, when bags had to be taped to the astronaut’s buttocks in a setup that was not always as secure as might have been hoped. One mission transcript records an exchange between crew members: “Where did that come from?… There’s a turd floating through the air.” The international space station (ISS) features a large, industrial-looking Russian-made toilet that uses suction technology to overcome the challenge of pooing and peeing in microgravity. NASA, however, is seeking something that would function equally well on the lunar surface, where gravity is about a sixth of that on Earth.
NASA is already working on approaches to miniaturize and streamline the existing toilets, designed for microgravity only. With this challenge, the agency hopes to attract radically new and different approaches to the problem of human waste capture and containment. NASA is looking for a next-generation device that is smaller, more efficient. These designs may be adapted for use in the Artemis lunar landers, mission to land the first woman and the next man on the Moon by 2024.
NASA is offering $35,000 as a cash reward to people for engineering the best 'lunar loo' design. All the submissions for the challenge must be made by 17 August. “It certainly isn’t the prime focus of the mission,” said Nasa’s Mike Interbartolo. “We’re not going back to the moon so we can say we pooped on the moon, but we don’t want an Apollo situation either.”
“Additionally, toilet designs must be able to accommodate sick crew members dealing with vomiting and diarrhoea. Bonus points will be awarded to designs that can capture vomit without requiring the crew member to put his/her head in the toilet,” Nasa says. The elegance and design of the entries and their ability to afford some level of privacy in small flight modules will also be considered.