On February 15th, 2017 we learned about

NASA’s favorite crowdsourced concepts for spacesuit commodes

As humans look to travel further from Earth, we need to figure out ways to accommodate our biology in the process. That means that astronauts need to journey into space with food, water, air and a way to safely dispose of all these things once their bodies have made use of them. Inside operational spacecraft, many of these needs are handled, but NASA has been looking to upgrade spacesuits to accommodate potential moments when a ship malfunctions further from home. To help with these scenarios where an astronaut might be forced to spend a few days in their spacesuit, a crowdsourcing project solicited ideas for better wearable bathrooms to keep things as hygienic as possible.

Top wearable toilets

The first-place winner aimed to keep astronauts clean and comfortable by flushing all forms of bodily waste away from the body, and out of the suit entirely. The designer, Thatcher Cardon, was inspired by one-way valves used in many modern medical procedures and how well they could deliver different substances through small spaces. The suit then has what amounts to a small airlock concept in the crotch, so that rather than storing urine or feces, it can be jettisoned from the suit entirely. It wasn’t clear how that waste would then be managed, since presumably astronauts wouldn’t want another ‘Apollo bag‘ moment, with ejected stool floating around their spacecraft with them.

The second-place design offered a bit more in-suit waste management. A special girdle would be worn around the astronaut’s crotch that uses air to push bodily fluids down and back, where they would be siphoned up and moved to a storage compartment. The airflow wouldn’t be as intense as a powered fan, instead being enabled by normal body movements of the astronaut and the fact that fluids are easy to move in microgravity. Basically, body farts would be enough to help push real poop down a wearable drain in the back of the suit.

The final concept aimed for as few moving parts as possible, with the final product being a bit like upgraded versions of the diapers astronauts currently use. The improvements would be that rather than simply absorbing fluids, this portable potty compresses and sanitizes pee and poop. It might not seem terribly glamorous, but it would keep bodily fluids away from the skin to avoid irritation, while not requiring a lot of space instead other spacesuit components.

Prototype potties

The contest for spacesuit commodes may be over, but it will be some time before any of these ideas is used in space.  Prototypes will be built and tested on Earth, and then at the International Space Station, where the six-days of waste management isn’t normally a concern. However, once NASA starts sending astronauts further afield, first to the Moon and eventually to Mars, they’ll certainly want to have something comfortable and robust to fall back on should the need arise.

Source: Space Poop Problem-Solvers Take Home Cash Prizes From NASA by Camila Domonoske, The two-way

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