NASA is looking for some help making the solar system's most portable port-a-potty.
So if you think you know the best way to poop in a spacesuit, the agency is ready to hear it ... and you might make $30,000 for your trouble.
The "Space Poop Challenge" — that's what it's called, we're not making this up — is the latest project of the NASA Tournament Lab, a program to invite members of the public to help come up with "novel ideas or solutions" for space-related problems. It's hosted on HeroX, a crowdsourcing platform.
And here's the challenge: Create an "in-suit waste management system" that can handle six days' worth of bathroom needs.
The logistics of pooping in space, in general, have long been resolved. Astronauts at the International Space Station, orbiting the Earth for months, have some noisy contraptions with vacuums, fans, hoses and bags that take care of business.
But those space toilets won't fit in a pressurized spacesuit — and they certainly aren't hands-free.
"How has NASA handled this in the past? Well, for one thing, they weren't handling it for 6 days," HeroX explains.
Basically, when astronauts are in spacesuits they stick with diapers to handle waste. That's fine for a few hours.
But someday NASA might send an astronaut on a mission that calls for spending days at a time in a suit.
Or — no "someday" required for this one — there could be an emergency situation that leaves an astronaut with no choice but to stay in a suit.
NASA is looking for an idea for a solution that would collect feces, urine and menstrual fluid without relying on gravity, and then keep all that waste away from the body. And the astronaut has to be able to move, sit and squeeze into tight places without a problem. And it can't take more than five minutes to implement the system. And it can't cause any air leakage in the pressurized suit. And it has to be entirely hands-free in its operation. And it needs to work for both men and women of "varying size and weight." And ideally it would be comfortable — physically, emotionally and psychologically — for the astronauts.
There's nothing on the market now that comes close to achieving this, NASA says.
"Current commercial products that provide urine waste management utilize gravity to route and collect urine away from the body. Some require the use of hands," the HeroX site notes. "No commercial products have been found that provide fecal waste management for a 144-hour period with or without the use of hands."
NASA says that out of all the ideas presented through HeroX, up to three will be awarded, with up to $30,000 total in prize money. There's a possibility that the idea might be implemented and your idea would actually help an astronaut find relief in space, although there's no guarantee.
The deadline is Dec. 20. You can find more information about the contest here.