To the loo and back: NASA’s Lunar Loo Challenge

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“That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” These are the famous words of Neil Armstrong, who with his Apollo 13 crew, landed on the moon exactly 51 years ago. 

Now, Apollo’s twin sister Artemis is scheduled to land the first woman on the Moon by 2024 and NASA needs your help. 

The Lunar Loo Challenge, as NASA has appropriately named it, is asking the public to design a “moon‑resistant” toilet, offering a prize of $35,000 (approx. £ 27,647). 

As the challenge description explains: “as we prepare for our return to the Moon, innumerable activities to equip, shelter, and otherwise support future astronauts are underway. These astronauts will be eating and drinking, and subsequently urinating and defecating in microgravity and lunar gravity.”

Microgravity is what enables the astronauts to float around in space and is also known as g‑force. Lunar gravity is approximately sixth of Earth’s gravity, but the human waste will still be able to fall down.  

If those two natural forces weren’t big enough obstacle, NASA also includes a 20-bullet list of necessary specification for the toilet’s design and performance. 

“Although space toilets already exist and are in use (at the International Space Station, for example), they are designed for microgravity only.  NASA is looking for a next-generation device that is smaller, more efficient, and capable of working in both microgravity and lunar gravity.” 

NASA states that they are already working on a toilet suitable for the 2024 mission. However, as they admit, they are “inviting ideas from the global community, knowing that they will approach the problem with a mindset different from traditional aerospace engineering. This challenge hopes to attract radically new and different approaches.” 

In addition, a Junior category has been set up as a part of this challenge for everyone under 18. “We want to encourage the next generation of space explorers, engineers, and scientists, and we know that students may think about this design problem without the same constraints as adults,” NASA explains. 

The goal of the 2024 Artemis programme is to explore the Lunar surface to more details, which NASA hopes will act as a stepping stone to get to Mars.

The deadline for all design submissions is August 17, 2020.

And remember kids, “bonus points will be awarded to designs that can capture vomit without requiring the crew member to put his/her head in the toilet.”

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Feature image: NASA

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Film, Media and Journalism student at the University of Stirling. Sports editor @ Brig Newspaper. Bylines in Edinburgh Evening Times and the SPA National Magazine.

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