NASA will pay you $48K to help design a new space toilet

Jun 29 2020, 4:26 pm

With all the preparation that goes into planning a space mission, some factors can fall through the cracks. NASA is looking for one creative mind to think of just that by designing a critical piece of hardware to assist in the agency’s 2024 return mission to the Moon.

In a new competition called “NASA’s Lunar Loo Challenge,” NASA is seeking to pay one lucky inventor USD $35,000 to design a toilet for the upcoming Artemis program. This 2024 mission will transport the first woman and another man to the Moon in a more streamlined fashion with a vessel containing less mass and less volume while being more energy-efficient.

“Designing and developing new lunar toilets may not be as exciting or intriguing as developing tools to support the exploration of the lunar surface, but the need is just as important,” the competition’s HeroX crowdsourcing page explains.

The ideal for potential designs is something that would permit astronauts to do their business both in microgravity and lunar gravity. The gravitational force, while not ultimately zero, is very small in microgravity. However, lunary gravity is “approximately one-sixth” of what we experience on Earth, “so urine and feces will fall down,” the page describes.

Thus, it is like a Goldilocks scenario: the design needs to be just right.

“NASA is already looking at ways to make currently-used space toilets smaller, lighter, and functional in lunar gravity, so your ideas should not be based on current waste management technology,” the page continues.

As well, the process for the potential toilet designs should be straightforward, as the mission’s deployment schedule in terms of the amount of time to develop and implement the technology is limited given the 2024 objective. Toilets that are considered too complicated or take too long to learn how to use will be less appealing to NASA.

Designs should also be developed for water conservation while assisting in the creation of an environment that is free of contaminants and displeasing odours.

Successful solutions will be those that can sustain a crew of two astronauts for 14 days while managing odour, accommodating multiple variations of waste (“urine, feces, vomit, diarrhea, menses”) and users of different genders.

Bonus points will be awarded to concepts that can develop a solution to catch vomit without the crew member having to put their head in the toilet — a universal desire that exists on land as well as in space.

For more specific parameters for proposed designs and performance specifications, judging criteria, and how to submit, visit theĀ NASA’s Lunar Loo ChallengeĀ HeroX crowdsourcing page.

Submissions have been open since June 25 and will close on August 17, 2020, at 5 pm ET (2 pm PT). Judging will take place between August 18 and September 22, and the winners will be announced on September 30, 2020.