NASA is challenging the public to build a better toilet -- specifically, one designed to work in the low gravity of the Moon. The space agency’s Lunar Loo Challenge contest is sweetening the pot with a $35,000 prize. Contenders should not let this opportunity go down the drain.
With cramped quarters and low or zero gravity, how astronauts “go” when they go into space has always been an issue and source of weird fascination for people who closely follow the program. The astronauts on the Apollo Moon missions of the late 1960s and early 1970s didn’t have toilets; they used bags that were sealed up and brought back to Earth.
Today on the International Space Station, there are toilets using fan-driven suction systems -- but those are designed for zero gravity and take up considerable room. (The water used and produced in that process is filtered and recycled, yes, as drinking water.) With NASA planning a return to the Moon in 2024, there’s a need for a toilet that will work in weak lunar gravity while being small enough to fit in a lunar lander.
So the contest is on. Ready, set ... flush!