NASA announced the winners of its “Space Poop Challenge” to develop ways to help astronauts take a #2 in space…(This is NOT a joke!) Crowd-sourcing website, HeroX and NASA awarded a total of $30,000 in prizes to five members of the public (two doctors, a dentist, an engineer and a product designer).
These days, astronauts have to wear diapers while training and doing missions because they are in a spacesuit for well over 10 hours at a time. NASA started looking for a more high tech/healthy way for astronauts to use and contain their waste for periods longer than one day.
“What this challenge set out to crowdsource was a complete system inside a space suit that collects human waste for up to 144 hours and routes it away from the body, without the use of hands,” NASA said. “The system had to operate in the conditions of space – where solids, fluids, and gases float around in microgravity (what most of us think of as “zero gravity”) and don’t necessarily mix or act the way they would on earth.”
The top prize of $15,000 was awarded to Air Force officer, Thatcher Cardon, for his “MACES Perineal Access & Toileting System (M-PATS)” design, inspired by minimally invasive surgical techniques.
“I never thought that keeping the waste in the suit would be any good,” Cardon told NPR. “So I thought, ‘How can we get in and out of the suit easily?'”
Cardon’s idea lets astronauts change their underwear and pass items such as inflatable bedpans and diapers through a small airlock in the suit.
“I thought about what I know regarding less invasive surgeries like laparoscopy or arthroscopy or even endovascular techniques they use in cardiology — they can do some amazing things in very small openings,” he said. “I mean, they can even replace heart valves now through catheters in an artery. So it should be able to handle a little bit of poop!”(….yeah)
The second place prize (10,000) was awarded to a group known as Space Poop Unification of Doctors (I love that this is REAL), consisting of a physician, an engineering professor and a dentist. The three craptologists developed an air-powered system to push waste away from the astronaut’s body and pour it in different parts of the suit.
“More specifically, that air is created by passive and active normal body movements of the astronaut,” team leader Jose Gonzales said. Product designer Hugo Shelley won $5,000 in third with his “SWIMSuit — Zero Gravity Underwear,” which disinfects and stores waste inside the suit.