NASA's Space Poop Challenge

NASA issued a public $30,000 bounty "for fecal, urine, and menstrual management systems to be used in the crew’s launch and entry suits over a continuous duration of up to 144 hours." From the competition brief:

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 6 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 very temporary solution, and doesn’t provide a healthy/protective option longer than one day.

What's needed is 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 (what most of us think of as "zero gravity") and don't necessarily mix or act the way they would on earth. This system will help keep astronauts alive and healthy over 6 days, or 144 hrs.

Space Poop Challenge (HeroX)

Notable Replies

  1. Neal Stephenson has come at the suit-pooping problem twice in his books (because unlike SOME authors who just want to ramble on about people's feelings, HE knows what's IMPORTANT to a story, goddammit).

    One (Anathem) had its spacefarers existing in big exo-suits with enough spare room and oxygen capacity to use the vacuum of space as a flush. (Not directly on the astronauts' tushies, but close to it.) However, NASA might regard a few thousand orbiting space-turds as an unacceptable hazard to navigation.

    The other (Seveneves) just had the person going into space take a super-constipation pill that would stop her up for the duration. Short-term use only, of course.

    Sure, it all sounds impossible, but remember: science fiction pooping today, science fact pooping tomorrow.

  2. That's not for poo. It's another hands-free device for collecting... uh... let's just call it "space seed."

Continue the discussion

44 more replies