NASA offering $30,000 for solving ‘space poop’ problem

NASA still struggling to solve ‘space poop’ problem

While Elon Musk is persistently pushing ahead with his aim to send humans to Mars, NASA still has no idea what to do with astronauts’ shit during deep space travel.

Like any other human, astronauts need to go to toilet even in a spacecraft. NASA researchers are still struggling to determine how to treat waste that it doesn’t harm astronauts during a space flight.

Astronauts need a special suit to provide clean air, water as well as enough nutrients for a period of up to six days, until they return to Earth. Spacecraft doesn’t provide that protections on its own. In simple words, NASA is still using an old-fashioned technology called “diapers” to deal with this problem.

Astronaut Rick Mastracchio said, “I can tell you that space flight is not always glamorous. People need to go to the bathroom even in a spacecraft. How is this waste treated such that it does not harm the astronaut or even kill them?”

Thus, protecting astronauts from waste when they would need to pee or poop during a long space travel, such as six-month journey to mars, is a challenge for NASA. Researchers also worry what would happen if a female astronaut gets her period in a spaceship.

In a bid to get a solution, NASA has announced an award of $30,000 for whoever can solve the space poop predicament. The deadline for submissions is Dec. 20, 2016.

"The old standby solution consisted of diapers," said the description of contest details at

"However, the diaper is only a very temporary solution, and doesn’t provide a healthy/protective option longer than one day."

Sometimes, astronauts have to wait even longer. The two men and one woman who packed themselves into a Russian Soyuz space capsule last week had to wait two full days between launching from Kazakhstan and arriving at the International Space Station.

The Soyuz is equipped with a portable toilet, which looks like an air-powered pee jug.

On future missions to deep space destinations like an asteroid or Mars, NASA suspects it could take up to 144 hours, or six days, to get to a proper toilet.

In emergency situations, astronauts may need to zip themselves into a fully pressurized, bulky orange spacesuit, complete with helmet and gloves.

"While sealed, it is impossible for an astronaut to access their own body, even to scratch their nose," NASA said.

That's where the inventors come in. Astronauts need some way to clear away urine, fecal matter and menstrual blood efficiently, or they risk infection.

Scientists also have to consider how the bars will affect crew morale, since food choice, variety and taste are important aspects of ensuring they consume enough, especially as mission lengths increase.

The food bars, which are being developing in coordination with NASA’s Human Research Program have been tested by crew members inside HERA, the agency’s three-story habitat at Johnson Space Center designed to serve as an analog for the isolation and remote conditions in exploration scenarios. The ground-based missions have provided helpful feedback on the flavor, texture and long-term acceptability of the bars that food scientists are using to hone the range of options available. The missions will ultimately help NASA determine the right meal replacement schedule to prevent food fatigue and aversion on long-duration missions.

While scientists continue to hone the food bars and expand the variety of options available, NASA also is working to develop regenerative ways to feed the crew on longer missions, including on the journey to Mars. The space station vegetable production system is helping to determine how to regularly grow fresh vegetables in space – astronaut Shane Kimbrough recently started the third such investigation aboard the orbital laboratory. Scientists are also looking at packaging food items to keep them edible and nutritious in conditions where there are temperature fluctuations, such as the surface of Mars.