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NASA contest aims to build a better toilet for astronauts on 2024 moon mission

At the Kennedy Space Center in 2008, technicians load replacement parts aboard the space shuttle Discovery for the Zvezda service module toilet on the International Space Station. (Dimitri Gerondidakis/NASA)

Humans are going back to the moon. But how will they “go” when they get there?

NASA wants to build a better toilet for astronauts on its upcoming Artemis mission, a moon excursion with a target date of 2024. And it wants the public to help.

The agency has mounted what it calls the Lunar Loo Challenge, a contest inviting designs from the global community in exchange for a prize purse of $35,000.

Space presents a set of challenges for anyone who needs to use the toilet. The International Space Station has a toilet that was installed in the 1990s, but it is difficult to use and has resulted in messes and unpleasant odors. A new toilet called Universal Waste Management System is scheduled for installation this year, but it’s designed for only the microgravity of space, not the lunar gravity of the moon.

NASA’s going to need a toilet that can be used on the moon’s surface, as well — and one that’s small enough to be installed on the lunar lander.

The challenge calls on the public to figure out how to capture sewage and smells in both microgravity and on the moon. NASA hopes the prize purse, which will be disbursed among three prize winners, will “attract radically new and different approaches to the problem of human waste capture and containment.” Kids can enter, too; they’ll receive noncash prizes.

Teams have until Aug. 17 to submit their plans for a lunar loo. The adult winners will be announced Sept. 30, and the younger winners on Oct. 20. Proposals will be evaluated on their quality, feasibility, the likelihood that the design could be developed within the next two to three years, and their innovation.

Oh, and the toilet’s ability to contain, in the agency’s words, “urine, feces (accommodating simultaneous urination and defecation), diarrhea, vomit, [and] menses.”

People may soon walk the moon’s surface, but they’ll still be subject to the same inconveniences as people on Earth. Ready to tackle the toilet challenge? Learn more at Herox.com/LunarLoo

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