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NASA Needs Your Help To Build A Better Space Toilet03:43
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NASA is looking for new designs for a toilet. (Courtesy of HeroX)
NASA is looking for new designs for a toilet. (Courtesy of HeroX)

Attention innovators, NASA needs a new space toilet.

The top three design teams that come up with a new space toilet for an expedition to the moon in a few years will share the Lunar Loo Challenge prize of $35,000.

Project manager Mike Interbartolo says NASA’s current toilet is too heavy for the weight constraints of the lunar landing.

“Our toilet has to go down to the moon's surface and back up again,” he says. “Any mass that we bring down costs propellant to bring it down, as well as bring it back up again.”

Plumbing alternatives such as space diapers have been used during spacewalks.

During the Apollo era, astronauts used bags but found this method uncomfortable. On the Apollo 10, one of the bags released waste and the commander noted “a floating object” in the cabin, he says.

On this trip, the astronauts will live on the surface of the moon for 6.5 days, he says, so the transit time down to the surface and back up into orbit are longer.

“It just didn't make sense to put the astronauts through such a bad experience again for so long,” he says.

The astronauts need the toilet system for the trip there and back, so designing a new light-weight toilet makes more sense than using a camper-style toilet on the moon.

The importance of giving astronauts a comfortable experience hasn’t stopped people from making a few jokes about the Lunar Loo Challenge. Bad jokes like “we're going to be flush with ideas” write themselves, he says.

Interbartolo hasn’t checked out any of the submissions yet. Citizen scientists have eight weeks to submit innovative designs. Plus, kids under 18 can submit fun and creative ideas in the junior category.

“[NASA has] used this platform for crowdsourcing ideas in the past and it's usually great results because folks bring in different perspectives,” he says, “and their own experience base drives innovation and ideas that we would not have access to otherwise.”


Emiko Tamagawa produced and edited this interview for broadcast with Tinku RayAllison Hagan adapted it for the web.

This segment aired on June 26, 2020.

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