Overview

The Problem

In space, no one can hear you flush. That's because in space, there are no toilets. While you may go about your life mostly unaffected by this, it is more of a challenge for our brave astronauts, dwelling in their space suits. 

After all: when you gotta go, you gotta go. And sometimes you gotta go in a total vacuum.

 

Background

Current space suits are worn for launch and entry activities and in-space activities to protect the crew from any unforeseen circumstances that the space environment can cause. An astronaut might find themselves in this suit for up to 10 hours at a time nominally for launch or landing, or up to 6 days if something catastrophic happens while in space.

The old standby solution consisted of diapers in case astronauts needed to relieve themselves. However, the diaper is a low-tech and very temporary solution. Most significantly, it doesn’t provide a healthy or protective option longer than one day.

 

What a Breakthrough Looks Like

What this challenge set out to crowdsource was a complete system inside a space suit that collects human waste for up to 144 hours and routes it away from the body, without the use of hands. The system had to operate in the conditions of space - where solids, fluids, and gases float around in microgravity (what most of us think of as "zero gravity") and don't necessarily mix or act the way they would on earth.  No small task there. 

Ultimately, the system developed from this challenge will help keep astronauts alive and healthy over six days, or 144 hrs.

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