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posted by charon on Thursday February 16, @12:24PM   Printer-friendly
from the another-in-our-ongoing-instructional-series dept.

NASA has a problem with #1 and #2 in space. What to do? Crowdsource it, in the form of a contest where anyone can submit a superior method. The contest just ended with NASA awarding $30,000 to the winning entries.

NASA astronauts' current method of waste disposal involves using a diaper during spacewalks and launch and entry, but these systems can be used only for about a day. The agency noted that it is difficult to design pooping systems for microgravity, where fluids and other things float. Maintaining good hygiene for these systems was among the primary challenges participants were tasked with solving.

In a description of the challenge, NASA said it was looking for technologies that have a "technical readiness level of 4" on its "ready for flight" scale, meaning that the solution could be tested in one year and be ready for space in three years. NASA added that it would consider solutions that would need more time if they were considered breakthroughs.

The goal is to use the system on a mission in the next three or four years, the challenge page said.

An earlier article about the problem: http://www.space.com/35576-space-poop-system-orion-deep-space.html.


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  • Just say no (Score: 2, Informative) by Anonymous Coward

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday February 16, @12:36PM (#467762)

    Not to the needs of our plumbimg systems, but to microgravity.

    Many SiFi storys have spun the ship to make gravity.
    Well, maybe for a start, one could spin the restroom.

    • Comment Below Threshold

      Re:Just say no (Score: -1, Offtopic) by Anonymous Coward

      by Anonymous Coward on Thursday February 16, @04:26PM (#467850)

      The klingons around uranus will always be a concern.

  • What were the solutions? (Score: 0, Insightful) by Anonymous Coward

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday February 16, @12:42PM (#467765)

    This is a remarkably contentless article...

    • Re:What were the solutions? (Score: 5, Funny) by driverless (4770)

      by driverless (4770) on Thursday February 16, @12:55PM (#467768)

      It's pretty simple actually, Trump has already told us that America is #1, and they're currently running a competition to see who gets to be #2.

      • Re:What were the solutions? (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward

        by Anonymous Coward on Thursday February 16, @09:27PM (#467970)

        If America is #1 what did he pay those Russian hookers for?

        • Re:What were the solutions? (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward

          by Anonymous Coward on Friday February 17, @03:36AM (#468070)
          It's called giving aid to the poor in 2nd world countries.
    • Re:What were the solutions? (Score: 1) by charon (5660)

      by charon (5660) Subscriber Badge on Thursday February 16, @07:37PM (#467923)
      The cool part about this website, and the internet in general, is the hyperlinks which take you to other pages which have more information. Pro-tip: look for the words that have an underline and click your left mouse button while the cursor is on them.
      • Re:What were the solutions? (Score: 2) by deadstick (5110)

        by deadstick (5110) on Thursday February 16, @10:37PM (#467996)

        You must be a witch.

      • Re:What were the solutions? (Score: 2) by Scruffy Beard 2 (6030)

        by Scruffy Beard 2 (6030) on Friday February 17, @09:50PM (#468361)

        From TFA:

        The winner of the $15,000 Space Poop Challenge prize was Thatcher
              Cardon, for a solution called "MACES Perineal Access & Toileting System
              (M-PATS)." Details on the system were not immediately available.
        ...
        The second-place prize of $10,000 was awarded to a system dubbed "Space
              Poop Unification of Doctors (SPUDs) Team – Air-powered," by Katherine
              Kin, Stacey Marie Louie and Tony Gonzales. The $5,000 third-place prize
              went to Hugo Shelley's "Spacesuit Waste Disposal System."

        I found no hyperlinks actually describing the winning systems.

        • Re:What were the solutions? (Score: 1) by charon (5660)

          by charon (5660) Subscriber Badge on Friday February 17, @10:38PM (#468385)
          May I ask, with all due respect, what you suggest I might have done to find the information you wish to know? Filed a FOIA request with NASA to obtain schematics of the winning entries? Called each winner to ask them to share their idea with me? Bonus points for explaining why I should do it instead of you, since you are the curious party.
          • Re:What were the solutions? (Score: 2) by Scruffy Beard 2 (6030)

            by Scruffy Beard 2 (6030) on Friday February 17, @10:55PM (#468391)

            May I ask, with all due respect, what you suggest I might have done to find the information you wish to know?

            Umm, nothing?

            AC (not me) said:

            This is a remarkably contentless article...

            I was pointing out that your "learn 2 Internet!" response was less than helpful.

  • LOL (Score: 2) by Bot (3902)

    by Bot (3902) Subscriber Badge on Thursday February 16, @01:11PM (#467771)

    various metric tons of SF pseudoscientific tales, and no one thought about the problem of pooping.

    Solution: leave meatbag home, send bots. Better to be sent in orbit than doing the sex worker or the old meatbags caregiver, or EWWWWW be implanted in one.

    • Re:LOL (Score: 5, Funny) by c0lo (156)

      by c0lo (156) on Thursday February 16, @01:44PM (#467774)

      various metric tons of SF pseudoscientific tales, and no one thought about the problem of pooping.

      Star Trek: teleport the human, keep to poop.

      Star Wars: use the force, Luke.

      2001 A space Odyssey: "I'm sorry, Dave. I'm afraid I can't let you do that".

      Alien - nothing special, just show one/any of them.

      Harry Potter: expelipoopus.

    • Re:LOL (Score: 2) by butthurt (6141)

      by butthurt (6141) on Thursday February 16, @09:35PM (#467973)

      It was key to the plot of The Martian.

    • Re:LOL (Score: 2) by edIII (791)

      by edIII (791) Subscriber Badge on Thursday February 16, @10:14PM (#467989)

      Heh, there has been a LOT of thought on that.

      Just to add, from a sci-fi book I can't remember the title of, aliens created a toilet when asked by the humans. Looked like a regular toilet, but was perfectly frictionless. The author spent quite a bit of time describing the magic of poop sliding, without leaving any stains, down and out a drain.

      The most interesting one, that I think is a real winner, came from Garden of Rama by Arthur C. Clarke. In some sentient arthropods decided to help with the #2 needs by developing a symbiotic life form to live *inside* your intestines. It lived off excrement and released only gas. So instead of needing to take any shits at all, you had some creatures living in your butt that took care of it for you. Butt butlers, if you will.

      • Re:LOL (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward

        by Anonymous Coward on Friday February 17, @03:15AM (#468060)

        Looked like a regular toilet, but was perfectly frictionless.

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Mote_in_God's_Eye ?

        It lived off excrement and released only gas.

        No thanks. Don't want to be making big farts non-stop. And if it's converting significant matter to energy that would be even scarier.

      • Re:LOL (Score: 2) by Bot (3902)

        by Bot (3902) Subscriber Badge on Friday February 17, @09:59PM (#468365)

        > Heh, there has been a LOT of thought on that.
        Then I have been lucky, avoiding all that crap SF.

  • Ask... (Score: 4, Funny) by c0lo (156)

    by c0lo (156) on Thursday February 16, @01:30PM (#467772)

    Better ask Howard... on the second thought, better not.

  • Centrifugal Water Closet (Score: 3, Interesting) by turgid (4318)

    by turgid (4318) on Thursday February 16, @01:53PM (#467776)

    What you want is a cylindrical room with a toilet pan on the wall which can be spun so that the astronaut can sit and get the jobby done. It doesn't need to spin that fast, since you only need a little centripetal acceleration to make Mr Hanky go in the right direction.

    --
    Don't let Righty keep you down.
    • Re:Centrifugal Water Closet (Score: 2) by Unixnut (5779)

      by Unixnut (5779) on Thursday February 16, @02:13PM (#467782)

      Keeping airtight seals when spinning just one room is hard. Easier to spin the entire object in space. However the ISS (for example) is not designed to be spun for artificial gravity, neither is anything else right now. Besides, the are plenty of times when you are not in a position to be spun around so you can poop (e.g. space walks).

      • Re:Centrifugal Water Closet (Score: 4, Insightful) by turgid (4318)

        by turgid (4318) on Thursday February 16, @02:15PM (#467784)

        I generally don't poop when I am out for a walk. Why would the seals need to be air tight? I was thinking it would be inside the main hull of the space craft, like a giant washing machine cylinder.

        --
        Don't let Righty keep you down.
        • Re:Centrifugal Water Closet (Score: 2) by Unixnut (5779)

          by Unixnut (5779) on Thursday February 16, @02:56PM (#467802)

          > I generally don't poop when I am out for a walk.

          Me neither, but NASA highlighted spacewalks as an issue, so presumably if the spacewalks are long, you need to be able to poop in your suit. A quick search took me to this page: http://www.answers.com/Q/Which_astronaut_have_longest_space_walk

          Where apparently the longest spacewalk is 8hrs and 56min. I can feasibly believe an astronaut may need the loo during those almost 9 hours in the suit. Quite a few spacewalks are multi-hour long themselves.

          > Why would the seals need to be air tight? I was thinking it would be inside the main hull of the space craft, like a giant washing machine cylinder.

          Because then you would have splatter everywhere, and floating turds in space isn't my idea of fun really. Unlike in a gravity environment, things don't drop where they are deposited, but rather float around and find their way out of small holes and cause issues.

          While inside the cylinder may be spinning within the hull, the hull itself isn't, so between the hull and spinning cylinder you would have floating turds and piss. If not sealed that will get out and float around the rest of the station, which sounds like a recipe for problems, not to mention the smell.

          Plus I don't want to be the one who has to go clean the hull where the cylinder is. Easier if the system disposes of the excrement into bags, which can be jettisoned when convenient.

          • Re:Centrifugal Water Closet (Score: 2) by shipofgold (4696)

            by shipofgold (4696) on Thursday February 16, @09:18PM (#467967)

            If I read TFA correctly the issue really is what happens when there is a catastrophic failure in the spacestation and the astronauts need to put on spacesuits for an extended period of time. Those diapers are going to get pretty ripe after 4-5 days.

        • Re:Centrifugal Water Closet (Score: 2) by bob_super (1357)

          by bob_super (1357) on Thursday February 16, @07:46PM (#467926)

          > I generally don't poop when I am out for a walk.

          I was going to suggest telling the astronauts to just go to the outhouse. Great view, no need to dig a hole, and no smell either.

          Then I thought about how unpleasant it would be for another ship to get hit by a multi-km/s frozen turd.

          • Re:Centrifugal Water Closet (Score: 2) by AthanasiusKircher (5291)

            by AthanasiusKircher (5291) Subscriber Badge on Thursday February 16, @09:34PM (#467972)

            I was going to suggest telling the astronauts to just go to the outhouse. Great view, no need to dig a hole, and no smell either.

            When I was a kid, we used to go on trips to a cabin with an outhouse. In the late fall or winter, there would sometimes be jokes about having to go at night and "freezing your ass off."

            Except in the space "outhouse"... it could actually happen.

      • Re:Centrifugal Water Closet (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward

        by Anonymous Coward on Friday February 17, @03:33AM (#468069)

        While I'd prefer artificial gravity in most of the space station, you don't actually need to spin the entire room.

        You can grab a bucket and swing it round and round in a room and the room can be airtight, there's no problem with airtight seals.

        So have the toilet in an air-tight room, astronaut goes into the toilet and then the toilet spins. Stuff ends up in a container in the toilet. Dispose of waste when toilet is no longer spinning.

        Anyway NASA is a sad joke of an agency nowadays. They should be building stations with artificial gravity, not trying to do reruns/"franchise reboots" with fancier tech.

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Centrifuge_Accommodations_Module

        The Centrifuge Accommodations Module (CAM) is a cancelled element of the International Space Station.

        It was cancelled in 2005[2] alongside the Habitation Module and the Crew Return Vehicle, because of ISS cost overruns and scheduling problems in Shuttle assembly flights.

        Not enough resources for basic important stuff but enough resources to bullshit about going to Mars (and keep repeating stupid isolation experiments, e.g. in places like Hawaii: https://www.theguardian.com/science/2016/aug/28/mars-scientists-nasa-dome-hawaii-mountain-isolation
        http://time.com/4639080/nasa-hawaii-human-space-travel-mars/
        I wonder if the NASA administrators get a surfing/diving allowance.
        )

    • Re:Centrifugal Water Closet (Score: 2) by c0lo (156)

      by c0lo (156) on Thursday February 16, @10:48PM (#467997)

      since you only need a little centripetal acceleration to make Mr Hanky go in the right direction.

      With centrifugal acceleration, there always a Coriolis one. At small radii, it will have values comparable with the centrifugal force, resulting in bending Mr Hanky.

      The end of mr hanky closer to the emitting orifice will have a smaller velocity than the distal end, which needs to be accelerated to stay along the same radius. Not a problem at large distances from the rotation centre - otherwise you'd see it whenever you poop on Earth - but at a rotation radius of 1 meters, 15-20cm - the "drop" of a constipated mr hanky - will be non-neglijible.
      Now, 1m rotation radius implies a 2m diameter. Place other components required for toilet rotation and containment around and the size of the toilet will become far from trivial in the economy of space aboard the space station.

  • In a space suite for 6 days (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday February 16, @03:53PM (#467833)

    The problem is how to take care of business inside a space suit over a 6 day mission.
        Diapers and outside catheters seem to be the current options.

    For females, an inside cath seems a likely solution for #1.

    For the backside, the body does pretty good containment, until it can't.
    Perhaps some sort of internal flushing system, working with the natural containment system.
    Probably would take some getting use to, but I bet the folks with the right stuff could work it out.

  • The easy solution... (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday February 16, @04:09PM (#467842)

    Attach a hose to a port on the wall of the spacecraft that vents to space, with a valve to control flow. Attach hose to M1 adapter (for #1 male) or F1 (for #1 female) or U2 (for unisex #2), let it flow.

    • Re:The easy solution... (Score: 2) by wonkey_monkey (279)

      by wonkey_monkey (279) on Thursday February 16, @05:11PM (#467877)

      Constipation will be a thing of the past. You'll go, whether you want to or not.

      --
      systemd is Roko's Basilisk
    • ''a hose [...] that vents to space'' (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward

      by Anonymous Coward on Thursday February 16, @08:01PM (#467929)

      It wouldn't surprise me to know that there have been numerous terrestrial events involving a vacuum cleaner hose and someone's privates.

      It also wouldn't surprise me to learn of numerous hospital records related to these.

      El Reg has reported numerous times about events with spider bites and improvised cock rings and such.
      You might even find accounts of some of the vacuum-related episodes there.

      You also have the problem of venting valuable breathable air.

      -- OriginalOwner_

  • Impossible task (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday February 16, @04:30PM (#467854)

    Intellectual Property

    Innovators who are awarded a prize for their submission must agree to grant NASA a royalty free, non-exclusive, irrevocable, world-wide license in all Intellectual Property demonstrated by the winning/awarded submissions. See the Challenge-Specific Agreement, which will be made available upon registration, for full details on intellectual property.

    If you make something that works, it's near impossible to guarantee that no-one ELSE will claim that they own it.
    For only $30k, the lawyers make this a pipe dream even without having to deal with the poop.

  • No thanks, I'm good (Score: 1) by cmdrklarg (5048)

    by cmdrklarg (5048) on Thursday February 16, @06:16PM (#467904)
    I'll just hold it until I get home.
    --
    THE SOFTWARE, IT NO WORKY!
  • What's new (Score: 2) by deadstick (5110)

    by deadstick (5110) on Thursday February 16, @06:50PM (#467914)

    Who said it was easy even down here? It was the very first engineering challenge: the guy who figured out that the soup would taste better if the latrine were downstream was the very first engineer, and it never went away: how we take a dump is a decent indicator of where we are in technology.

    One guy who recognizes that is Stephen Biesty of the Amazing Cross Sections books. Nearly every one has a guy tucked away in some remote corner, doing the necessary. Kids love looking for it...it's like a Waldo book.