As part of its Artemis Program to go back to the moon by 2024, NASA is working out lots of details to make the mission possible. One of those is something that might sound a bit funny at first but is a very important part of space travel… toilets.
NASA certainly has lots of experience with figuring out how to allow astronauts to do their bathroom business. But to come up with some fresh ideas and open up to solutions it might not think of, NASA has launched an engineering contest that is looking for the best moon toilet ideas (via The Verge).
Dubbed the “Lunar Loo Challenge,” NASA has partnered with HeroX to put on the contest to crowdsource a brilliant idea for a toilet that will go in the human moon lander that will be used for the Artemis Program. One of the interesting challenges here is that the toilet will need to operate while in orbit in zero-gravity conditions as well as on the moon’s surface that has 1/6th the gravity of earth. NASA is offering prizes worth up to $35,000 ($20,000 for first-place).
“We wanted to see what’s out there — what the unknown unknowns are and put the power of the crowd to find those citizen scientists who’ve got different perspectives,” Mike Interbartolo, project manager for the Lunar Loo Challenge who is working on the Human Lunar Lander System at NASA, tells The Verge. NASA plans to award up to $35,000 in prizes, and some form of the winning space throne may be included on the lander.
Highlighted by The Verge, whatever the winning solution ends up being, it should be a big improvement over what was used for the Apollo mission.
The Apollo spacecraft that took humans to the Moon didn’t have any toilets at all. To urinate, they had to pee into a rubber tube (which basically worked like a condom) that transferred the liquid either outside the spacecraft or into a storage container. Pooping was even worse. The crew had to use plastic bags with sticky rings around the rim, which attached to their behinds.
Notably, with the Artemis Project sending the first woman to the moon along with returning a man, the new toilet will need to work for both sexes. NASA and HeroX have all the details here for what the toilet performance and design specs should be. And in a neat touch, there’s also a Junior Lunar Loo Challenge with three age-groups.
If you’re curious about existing space toilets, here’s a tour of the International Space Station accommodations.