They brought us infant formula, the technology behind iPhone cameras and more aerodynamic trucks. They've kept a man alive in space for a full year. But NASA can't figure out how to handle human waste.
Sure, astronauts have their fancy space toilets. But when they suit up in their spacesuits, the real problem arises. Spacesuits are already pretty freaking advanced. They can keep astronauts alive for up to six days with clean air, water and enough nutrients. Unfortunately, bathroom facilities aren't exactly part of the spacesuit package.
Despite NASA's best efforts, they haven't been able to find a solution. The best they've come up with is called the Maximum Absorbency Garment -- essentially a diaper. For a few hours, this'll work to absorb fluid. But it's only a temporary solution. At some point, you're gonna have to go No. 2. If you've ever dealt with babies and diaper rash, you already know why this won't work.
As NASA and other space programs eye longer-term missions in space, the diapers have to go. Astronauts won't be able to get back to Earth as quickly if there's an emergency. They might need to spend more than a few hours in their spacesuits, meaning the poop problem has got to be solved.
So NASA has turned to crowdsourcing for ideas. They're running the Space Poop Challenge on HeroX, which invites innovators and problem solvers to solve challenges for prize money. Here's your mission, if you choose to accept it. Design a spacesuit-compatible system "that routes and collects human waste away from the body, hands-free, for fully suited astronauts."
The biggest challenge of the whole endeavor? Gravity. Here's what NASA has to say about that:
In space there is no gravity to direct your urine away from your body when you release it. Same for poop. There is no gravity to pull it away when you release it... And don't forget, you can't always count on poop being solid, especially if you are up in space and nervous about the fact that your vehicle cabin has depressurized.
The Space Poop Challenge runs through Dec. 20, so get to it. Imagine what you could do with $30,000. Maybe go wild on renovating your bathroom, that's what.