Space

Space Poop: NASA’s 3 ingenious ideas to help astronauts go to the loo

By Oliver Smith 16 February 2017
Summary

In space, no one can hear you flush.

Space travel is the future, Elon Musk and Reebok’s snazzy blue spacesuit are determined to make sure that’s the case.

But, if we’re going to embrace space travel, there’s a few challenges we’re going to have to overcome, and going to the toilet is one of them.

At the moment during takeoff and landing astronauts in spacesuits are forced to wear nappies to manage their… waste.

These suits can be worn for up to 10 hours during launch, or up to 6 days if something catastrophic happens in outer space.

Pooping in space

That’s why NASA launched a $30,000 “Space Poop” challenge in October 2016 for entrepreneurs to design: “a system inside a spacesuit that collects human waste for up to 144 hours and routes it away from the body, without the use of hands”.

The design also needed to be small, quick, compact, allowing for free movement and appropriate for both men and women.

And boy, were there some innovative solutions.

Fancy flushers

Doctor and part-time tinkerer Thatcher Cardon came up with the winning solution for the top prize of $15,000, a tiny airlock built into a spacesuit’s crotch.

The idea is that tiny nappies could be passed into the astronauts suit, used, and then disposed of back through the airlock.

“I thought about what I know regarding less invasive surgeries… they can do some amazing things in very small openings,” he told NPR.

“I mean, they can even replace heart valves now through catheters in an artery. So it should be able to handle a little bit of poop!”

Not all the designs required the poop to actually leave the astronaut’s spacesuit however.

In second place a team known as the “Space Poop Unification of Doctors” came up with an air-powered funnel system, that pushes waste away from the astronauts crotch.

The actual waste is then stored in a different section of the spacesuit, not quite sure how we feel about that.

In third place came entrepreneurial Brit Hugo Shelley, who came up with a catheter design that can be used in microgravity.

Space travel is coming, let’s just hope that NASA, SpaceX and Boeing all adopt these or come up with their own innovative solutions for going to the loo in space.

We’re all going to need to go.