As part of the space agency’s Artemis programme, NASA is working towards inventing a portable moon toilet. They’re offering a whopping $35 grand in prizes for the lunar plumber who can design a workable toilet for our spacemen, and soon-to-be spacewoman, on the moon.
With the absence of gravity working against you, it’s probably much harder than it sounds.
The NASA innovative design competition, namely the Lunar Loo Challenge, offers up to $35,000 in prizes to whoever can defy the foundational laws of physics.
The big question is how on earth (or not) does an astronaut contain their excrement and prevent it from floating around in space for eternity? Frank Zappa might’ve known. After all, he did name his daughter Moon Unit. Due in part to his absence, the Lunar Loo Challenge is now a thing.
The NASA Human Landing System (HLS) program, in partnership with HeroX, sparked as part of the efforts to land the first woman and next man on the moon in 2024. However, there are a few requirements that must be met in order to complete the challenge effectively.
The pipes must be fully functioning with plumbing integrity, working well enough for a duo of astronauts to do their business for the two-week duration of their time spent on the Land of Cheese. And we’re talking odd space food here…
“Lunar toilet design concepts should allow astronauts to urinate and defecate in both microgravity and lunar gravity,’” HeroX explained in a statement.
The lunar dunnies must also work to contain pungent odours, as well as, “accommodating different types of waste (urine, faeces, vomit, diarrhoea, menses), and different gender users (female and male)”. Doesn’t sound like an easy task, considering all variables working against the craftsman.
The statement goes on to explain the complex physics behind the weighting of objects in space: “Microgravity is what is generally considered “zero-g” and is experienced as weightlessness. The g-force is not actually zero in microgravity; it is just very small. Lunar gravity is approximately one-sixth of Earth’s gravity, so urine and faeces will fall down.”
The $35,000 prize fund will be split between the top three competition contenders, with first-place hauling $20k, second making $10k and third place taking away $5k. Entry submissions close on August 17th, so get started on those diagrams soon if you think you’ve got what it takes. Head to the competition website, to check out the full specs.
However, there is one last hot tip I should mention for those having a crack at the NASA Lunar Loo Challenge. Bonus points will be awarded to the plumbing appliance design that can capture vomit, without requiring the crew to put their head down the toilet. No wonder astronauts get paid a fortune.