What should fully suited astronauts do when they need to use the toilet in space? NASA has launched a USD 30,000 challenge to develop a system that collects and routes human waste away from the body for upto six days without the use of hands.
Current space suits are worn for launch and entry activities and in-space activities to protect the crew from any unforeseen circumstances that the space environment can cause. A crew member could find themselves in this suit for up to 10 hours at a time nominally for launch or landing, or up to six days if something catastrophic happens while in space.
The old standby solution consisted of diapers, in case astronauts needed to relieve themselves. However, the diaper is only a temporary solution, and does not provide a healthy option longer than one day. NASA is looking for a 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.
The system has to operate in the conditions of space – where solids, fluids, and gases float around in microgravity and do not necessarily mix or act the way they would on Earth. This system will help keep astronauts alive and healthy over six days, or 144 hours.
The waste management systems should address faecal, urine, and/or menstrual waste management in a pressurised survival suit environment for six days while protecting the safety and health of crew members. Solutions should provide for urine collection of up to one litre per day per crew member, for a total of six days. Faecal collection rates should be targeted for 75 grammes of mass and 75 millilitres of volume per crew member per day. Menstrual collection systems should handle up to 80 millilitres over six days.
NASA will award upto USD 30,000 to the solutions it judges to be the most promising for implementation and use on missions in the next three or four years. The challenge is open to individuals, age 18 or older, private teams, public teams, and collegiate teams from any country. Designs can be submitted till December 20 this year.