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Future space toilets: NASA launches a competition to select the best concepts

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If engineers develop ever more optimized systems to improve navigation, energy management or communication technologies in the context of manned flights, we should not forget the more trivial systems which directly participate in everyday life. astronauts. This is particularly the case of toilets which, if they seem to be a simple element at first sight, however, require special attention in order to be optimized to the maximum. It is with this objective that NASA is launching its Lunar Loo Challenge, a competition open to entrepreneurs and designed to design space toilets for future manned missions. 

In a new competition, NASA is calling on innovators around the world to develop new space toilets that would work not only in microgravity like aboard the International Space Station but also in lunar gravity aboard a future lunar lander as part of Artemis, a program which aims to bring humans back to the moon by 2024. The competition has a total prize of $ 35,000 to be shared by the winning teams.

” This challenge hopes to attract radically new and different approaches to the problem of capturing and confining human waste,” writes NASA in a description of the challenge entitled NASA’s Lunar Loo Challenge.

Anyone can apply for this contest and the winning design will receive a prize of $ 20,000, the second will win $ 10,000 and the third will receive $ 5,000. The competition even includes a junior category in which children and adolescents (under 18) can apply with their innovative idea of ​​space toilets. The children of the junior can gain “public recognition and a goodie  official stamped NASA.”

More specifically, the competition calls for designs that work in lunar gravity (about one-sixth of Earth’s gravity) and in microgravity. The designs should not take more than 0.12 cubic meters of space and should not exceed 60 decibels in operation (about the same sound intensity as a bathroom fan).

The toilets in the space must be able to collect urine and excrement at the same time and contain at least 1 litre of liquid waste and 500 grams of solid waste. The device should also be able to hold at least 114 grams of menstrual blood per day. The final requirements are that the system must be capable of storing or disposing of waste and must be able to be cleaned and maintained within 5 minutes or less between uses.

During NASA’s Apollo program in the 1960s and early 1970s, astronauts urinated in a spare tube (designed only for male astronauts, because women were not yet allowed in the body of astronauts from NASA), which they then threw into space. Apollo astronauts also had to place their solid waste in plastic bags that they had to bring back to Earth to be studied.

The space shuttle had toilets known as a waste collection system, which released the waste into the void of space. But it didn’t always work perfectly. The International Space Station has improved the space toilet with a new design, and NASA is working on a new space toilet known as the Universal Waste Management System (UWMS).

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