Last year, in October, NASA launched a “special” challenge regarding waste management in space for astronauts, dubbed Space Poop Challenge. The program was supposed to equip the spacewalkers’ suits with a portable port-a-potty for both men and women to eject liquid and solid human waste.
At the moment, Nasa astronauts who venture outside the space station for hours on end rely solely on diapers. As effective as the measure may currently be, should the astronauts be stranded in their full-body suits for several days at a time, diapers wouldn’t cut it. Hence, the suits needed a major upgrade in the field of waste management and disposal.
To make things interesting, the space agency turned to the public and launched the Space Poop Challenge on the HeroX crowdsourcing site in October in hopes of gathering feasible ideas from space enthusiasts who could provide a safe and comfortable alternative to the current waste disposal system.
Engineers at NASA said that the portable bathroom that was going to be embedded in the suit should work swiftly in micro-gravity, without impeding movement, for liquid and solid waste, and for both men and women.
As far as the actual waste was concerned, it could have been stored in a special compartment within the suit or expelled all the same. However, the most important aspect was for the design to be comfortable and durable, up to six days of continuous work.
In total, NASA awarded the top design with $30,000 prize money. From its launch in October 2016, 5,000 ideas were submitted to the space agency coming from almost 20,000 people.
The winning design came from an Air Force officer, flight surgeon, and family practice physician, Thatcher Cardon. The man says his design was inspired by minimally invasive surgical techniques. Also, the idea of storing the waste within the suit did not sit well with him, so he found a way to efficiently dispose of it.
As a result, he designed a small airlock at the crotch with a multitude of items including diapers and inflatable bedpans that could be passed through the opening and then expanded. Moreover, this allows astronauts to also change underwear while wearing the suit, through the same opening.
Image Source: NASA