Humans are going back to the moon. But how will they “go” when they get there?
Nasa wants to build a better toilet for astronauts on its upcoming Artemis mission, a moon excursion with a target date of 2024. And it wants the public to help.
The agency has mounted what it calls the Lunar Loo Challenge, a contest inviting designs from the global community in exchange for a prize purse of $35,000 (£27,900).
Space presents a set of challenges for anyone who needs to use the toilet. The International Space Station has a toilet that was installed in the 1990s, but it is difficult to use and has resulted in messes and unpleasant odours.
A new toilet called Universal Waste Management System is scheduled for installation this year, but it is designed for only the microgravity of space, not the lunar gravity of the moon.
Nasa is going to need a toilet that can be used on the moon’s surface, as well – and one that is small enough to be installed on the lunar lander.
The challenge calls on the public to figure out how to capture sewage and smells in both microgravity and on the moon.
Nasa hopes the prize purse, which will be disbursed among three prize winners, will “attract radically new and different approaches to the problem of human waste capture and containment”. Children can enter, too, but they will receive non-cash prizes.
Teams have until 17 August to submit their plans for a lunar loo. The adult winners will be announced on 30 September, and the younger winners on 20 October.
Proposals will be evaluated on their quality, feasibility, the likelihood that the design could be developed within the next two to three years, and their innovation.
Oh, and the toilet’s ability to contain, in the agency’s words: “urine, faeces (accommodating simultaneous urination and defecation), diarrhoea, vomit, [and] menses.”
The Washington Post