‘Lunar Loo Challenge’: NASA offering $20,000 for best astronaut toilet design

NASA recently launched a crowdsourcing campaign on HeroX offering $20,000 to the person who comes up with the best design for a toilet that will work in both microgravity and lunar gravity.

The challenge comes ahead of NASA’s 2024 flight to the moon, which aims to land the first woman and next man on the lunar surface.

Space toilets are nowhere near a new invention: Astronauts living aboard the International Space Stations (ISS) use a toilet designed for longer-term missions in microgravity. This means that people and objects — including urine and feces — appear to be weightless.

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But a mission to the moon will require a smaller and lighter toilet, since lunar gravity is approximately one-sixth of Earth’s gravity.

“Our astronauts accomplish amazing feats of science and space exploration. But at the end of the day, they’re still human,” said Mike Interbartolo of NASA’s Johnson Space Center. “We need to provide them with the same necessities as here on Earth so they can continue to do their job.”

That’s where the global community comes in. The Lunar Loo Challenge aims to outsource out-of-the-box toilet designs that will work in both microgravity and lunar gravity.

The participants must design a novel lunar toilet based on certain specifications. For example, it must weigh less than 33 pounds in Earth’s gravity, consume less than 70 Watts of power, operate with a noise level of 60 decibels, and accommodate both female and male users.

“The global community of innovators provides valuable insight and expertise we might not have in-house,” said Steve Rader, deputy manager of the NASA Tournament Lab (NTL). “Challenges like this allow us to tap into that creative thinking and find unknown or undeveloped solutions.”

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The challenge has two divisions — technical and junior — which allows for participants of all ages to imagine and create a new space toilet. Submissions will be evaluated based on proposed capabilities, technical maturity, safety and overall innovation.

NASA is offering cash prizes for the top three entries in the technical division at $20,000, $10,000 and $5,000, respectively. The top three submissions for the junior division will each receive public recognition and an item of the official NASA merchandise.

The submission deadline is Aug. 17 by 5 p.m. ET, and the winners will be announced on Sept. 30.