The United States space agency NASA has thrown open a new challenge worth 13.5 million ($35000) for the global community inventors to develop a toilet that works not just in microgravity, but also lunar gravity on a future lunar lander spacecraft.
The winning design will receive $20,000, with $10,000 for second place and $5,000 for third. Children under the age of 18 are also encouraged to apply in a “junior” category where the prizes are public recognition and NASA-themed merchandise.
The ‘Lunar Loo’ design challenge was announced as NASA is preparing for a return to the Moon with a number of activities that will equip, shelter, and support future astronauts for the same.
“This challenge hopes to attract radically new and different approaches to the problem of human waste capture and containment,” NASA wrote in a challenge overview that was posted Thursday.
NASA said that the space toilet design has to be in such a way so that when astronauts are in their cabin, out of their spacesuits, they can urinate and defecate in the same conditions as here on Earth. It has to adapt to both – microgravity and lunar gravity – for use in the Artemis lunar landers that transport humans to the Moon.
“Although space toilets already exist and are in use (at the International Space Station, for example), they are designed for microgravity only,” the NASA said in a statement.
Most important of all, it should be able to collect urine and feces simultaneously, accommodating a liter of the former and 500 grams (17.6 ounces) of the latter, including in diarrhea form.
The specifications add that it should be able to deal with up to 114 grams of menstrual blood per crew per day and “allow for easy cleaning and maintenance, with 5 minute turnaround time or less between uses.”
The system must also be able to store the waste or toss it outside the vehicle.
The last date of submission is August 17, 2020, and a “bonus points will be awarded to designs that can capture vomit without requiring the crew member to put his/her head in the toilet.”