That's right, astronauts have always looked cool in their super space gear as they prepared to be blasted into orbit, but all the while, every single astronaut has been stuck wearing a diaper during launches and landings. (When they reach space there are specially designed waste collection systems to use and of course on Earth there are gas station bathrooms galore.) This gets even more gross when you consider that astronauts often have to spend up to 10 hours in their spacesuits as they wait for the launch or prepare for re-entry, so they definitely have to use those diapers at some point.
However, now NASA officials are trying to come up with a way to finally ditch the diaper, and they're asking for the public's help with the crowdsourced "space poop challenge" which is exactly what it sounds like — NASA wants you to help them figure out astronauts can do their business in space.
NASA officials outlined what they're after with the space poop challenge. "What's needed is 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," project officials stated on the space poop challenge website. "The system has to operate in the conditions of space — where solids, fluids and gases float around in microgravity."
The space poop solution will have to get all of the waste dealt with without any help from gravity since the astronauts will be working in a zero-gravity environment. Some urine management systems use gravity to collect the pee, but that won't be an option in space. There are no hands-free feces collecting systems in existence as of yet, according to NASA.
NASA officials also note some important details to consider when designing how to deal with going to the bathroom in space. It's not as simple as you might expect since there's no gravity to direct urine and poop away from your body after you've released it. If your period has started, some blood will come out but you don't really want it traveling around the suit on its own, NASA officials point out in the project guidelines. "And don’t forget, you can’t always count on poop being solid, especially if you are up in space and nervous about the fact that your vehicle cabin has depressurized."
Yeah, hadn't thought of that whole not-solid-poo angle yet, had you?
So to work properly, the system will have to be able to handle 75 grams (or 75 milliliters) of feces, one liter of urine and 80 milligrams of menstrual blood in a pressurized survival suit for up to six days. The entire suit will also have to be easy to use — astronauts will have to be able to get into their suits in an hour or less and once they are in them they need to be able to do their business without having to use their hands.
So if you have a big idea, get cracking because the clock is ticking. The entry deadline is December 16 and whoever comes up with a solutions that NASA officials deem promising enough will be awarded $30,000, and the right to brag that, well, he or she helped NASA astronauts figure out how to poop in space without having to then sit in their own filth. Meanwhile, let's all take a moment to be deeply thankful for modern plumbing and the fact that for most adults, diapers are strictly optional.