In case you didn’t get the memo, NASA launched arguably its most unique challenge this past October: the Space Poop Challenge. Yes, that’s its actual name. The challenge dangled a $30,000 reward in exchange for proposed solutions for dealing with human waste — that is, poop — that’ll be implemented in astronauts’ suits. The system is supposed to solve the human waste problem for the duration of up to 144 hours and be used during a crew’s launch into and entry from space.
The NASA Space Poop Challenge sought, per the space agency’s own website, “proposed solutions for fecal, urine, and menstrual management systems to be used in the crew’s launch and entry suits over a continuous duration of up to 144 hours.” This is referred to as an ‘in-suit waste management system,’ and is described as something that would be utilized in ‘any long duration tasks’ as well as ‘contingency scenarios.’
The challenge opened to submissions on October 11, when NASA announced it, and closed to submissions on December 20, meaning you’ve lost whatever chance you may have had at letting your creativity shine. The old solution to this multi-decade problem has been a somewhat undignified one: diapers. This isn’t terribly healthy, as one may have to sit in their waste for several hours, and it also loses its effectiveness within a single day.
The winning system would need to, according to NASA, collect the waste over a longer duration (144 hours), move that waste away from the body, and do all of this without the astronauts having to use their hands. The system would also have to be useable in space and its microgravity environment (e.g., where things float).
The winner of this challenge is Dr. Thatcher Cardon, a family physician and flight surgeon who is awarded $15,000 for his MACES Perineal Access & Toileting System, also known as M-PATS. The second prize of $10,000 went to the collective calling themselves the “Space Poop Unification of Doctors,” and the third prize, $5,000, went to Hugo Shelley for the SWIMSuit.
Unfortunately, no details about how these systems work were provided.