NASA launched a competition challenging the general public to come up with ideas to deal with poo and pee in space.
In space, everything can be a serious life hazard – and no-one can hear you scream, should something go wrong.
The slightest glimpse of combustion, the tiniest of debris, and of course, our own waste could bring about your demise.
On Earth, taking a turd is a necessary and unexciting common activity; at zero gravity it’s one of the biggest challenges astronauts have to face. Have you ever imagined how waste behaves in total vacuum? Just a hint, it’s not pretty at all.
Out there it seems, floating poos are more of a threat than man eating Xenomorphs. Accordingly, the renown Aeronautic agency wants to crowdsource a space suit that’s capable of collecting human waste for up to 144 hours and most importantly, mess free.
Astronauts currently wear suits in three scenarios: for launch and entry, and during in-space activities like equipment maintenance and ship repair. These suits are capable of sustaining its bearer up to six days if needed. But then the question arises, what happens when you gotta go?
The current solution is diapers. Yep, astronauts wear special diapers under those state of the art, super cool space suits. But this low tech solution is hardly the answer. Hygiene problems aside, it doesn’t provide waste control for more than a day.
What NASA is looking for is a no-hands system capable of collecting human waste and routing it away from the body. Such an invention must operate in the conditions of space, where solids, fluids, and gases float around and don’t necessarily behave the way they do on Earth.
Building on his experience as flight surgeon, Air Force Colonel Thatcher Cardon, commander of the 47th Medical Group at Laughlin Air Force Base in Texas, came up with the idea that won the grand prize of $15,000.
His invention, named the MACES Perineal Access and Toiling System, involves a set of tools that you insert through different ports in the spacesuit to get rid of the waste and clean yourself in a hands-free manner.
Col. Cardon talks about his invention, “I read about the different requirements. You could leave the waste in the suit or take it out. I’m not going to leave it in the suit because that’s just disgusting. It’s just going to cause problems. I decided it was going to come out. Then I thought, where am I going to take it out? You can’t take it out the back because you can’t reach it. You can’t really operate anything back there, especially in a space suit”
He devised a valve system inspired in laparoscopy surgery, with different accessories that go through the valve to perform certain functions.
He explained the system to the Air Force Times, “The fecal containment and perineal hygiene device is basically an inflatable bed pan. Everything goes in (the suit valve) through an introducer. This device is made out of elastic material that wants to stay rolled up, like a poster. When you inflate it, the cushion on the bed pan inflates and makes space in the suit and unrolls into a bed pan-shaped device. You would use the toilet, and suction would help move the waste down deep into the device. When it deflates, it scrolls back up and you pull it out”
If you want to check out the full interview you can go here.