NASA wants you (yes, you) to solve its poop problems

More space travel, more poop problems.
He's definitely thinking about his gut microbiome right now. NASA via Wikimedia Commons
John Glenn At Work

Everybody poops, as you may have read, and people in space are no exception. In zero gravity, astronauts rely on vacuum-powered toilets to help get feces far away from the body. Once it’s shot out of the space station, astronaut poop burns up in the atmosphere like shooting stars, which is cool and great. But when astronauts are stuck in cumbersome spacesuits waiting for launches or landings, they just wear diapers. Less cool and great, to be sure. That’s where you come in.

NASA announced its space poop challenge with HeroX back in October, but the clock is ticking—submissions close on Dec. 20. So in case you somehow managed to ignore NASA’s space poop challenge, here’s what you need to know:

NASA wants you to change their dirty diapers

“The old standby solution consisted of diapers,” says the description of the competition. “However, the diaper is only a very temporary solution, and doesn’t provide a healthy/protective option longer than one day.” The AFP reports that, as NASA sends astronauts on longer missions to Mars and beyond, the problem could become even more pressing: The agency estimates that men and women traveling to Mars might spend as long as six days without access to an extraterrestrial toilet, should an emergency force them to put on their suits.

In low or zero gravity, anything left squishing around in a diaper for six days (ew) will float around and stick to astronauts’ skin. It goes without saying that this is not cool or great. NASA is looking for inventions that would handle fecal, urine, and menstrual waste by keeping them away from the skin during these journeys. Read the technical nuts and bolts here.

You’ll get paid for being a poop genius

If NASA likes your idea best – and thinks it could be tested within one year and implemented within three – they’ll pay you up to $30,000 for your trouble (and for the rights to take your idea and run with it, of course). Anyone over the age of 18 can enter, but your submission must be in English.

So get cracking: Your crappiest ideas are due on Dec. 20.