What happens when you combine zero gravity and a toilet? For NASA, the answer is a challenge and they’re paying big to find someone to help them solve it.
The US space agency is offering up to AU$51,000 (US$35,000) in prize money to the person who can design a toilet designed for its Artemis lunar lander. It will need to function in low gravity on the moon, which is around one-sixth of the gravity felt on earth, and in zero gravity in space.
The toilet needs to function for both men and women, and will also need to conserve water and be odour and contaminant free. Designers have until 17 August with the winners to be announced on 20 October.
On top of that, it needs to have a turnaround time of five minutes at the most between uses, make less noise than a bathroom fan and use less than 70 watts of power.
And it needs to be less than .12 cubic meters in volume and weigh less than 15kg on Earth.
The crew will be made up of two astronauts, so the unit will need to support those two people for 14 days while also allowing for collected waste to be stored or disposed of outside of the craft. The toilets should also be simple to use.
The top prize is US$20,000 and the second place winner will receive US$10,000 while the third-best design will receive US$5,000.
NASA said extra points would be awarded if the designer can find a way for the toilet to capture vomit without requiring the astronaut stick their head in the bowl.
“Designing and developing new lunar toilets may not be as exciting or intriguing as developing tools to support the exploration of the lunar surface, but the need is just as important,” NASA said on its challenge platform, HeroX.
NASA plans to land the first woman and the next man on the moon by 2024 under its Artemis plan, and prepare for eventual travel to Mars.
“These astronauts will be eating and drinking, and subsequently urinating and defecating in microgravity and lunar gravity. While astronauts are in the cabin and out of their spacesuits, they will need a toilet that has all the same capabilities as ones here on Earth.”