After asking for your help to allow Curiosity to move, NASA now needs you for another vitally important project: inventing the future astronaut toilet!
In space, everything will not be so simple … © Thomas Malyska, Pixabay
The way of going in space might seem laughable. But this is a very serious and even crucial issue, on which all the space agencies are working diligently. Because despite all our technological prowess in communication, propulsion or materials science, the observation is relentless: no little corner in good and due form, no long-term stay on Mars, or on any other celestial body whatsoever . But making your needs is not just a matter of biology: it is also an essential component of our daily lives, and aerospace engineers want to make sure that the experience is not too far from what astronauts know on Earth. This is particularly the case at NASA, which has just launched a design competition … for the best space toilets. In an approach which Emmanuel Macron himself would not have reneged on in principle – albeit with a very different purpose – the agency explains that it wants to draw ideas from civil society to broaden its horizons. “We wanted to see what was out there, […] find these civilian scientists who would have different perspectives,” said Mike Interbartolo, project coordinator with NASA. In addition to the main competition, NASA is even preparing a junior competition for those under the age of 18 … and there is no doubt that it should contain some wonders. We sincerely hope that the organizers will prepare an anthology of the best proposals for Perles du Bac, because it promises to be great!
Why is NASA working so hard on its toilets?
The most inspired, but above all the most functional idea will be awarded a prize of $ 35,000; a substantial sum, which attests to the fact that under its unusual air, this project is not a vulgar fair for fans of bidets: it is a project could not be more serious and important. Because in a spacecraft, the smallest square centimeter is clad with advanced technology to withstand multiple constraints and toilets are no exception. Unlike your favorite throne, those used by astronauts will have to operate during the journey in the absence of gravity, and in any orientation and at high speed. Difficult conditions, in which any dysfunction could turn into a real hygienic cataclysm. To convince yourself of the horror of such a scenario, you just have to imagine yourself strapped into a site toilet that runs down a steep slope at full speed … Gloups. In addition, they will also have to operate on lunar soil, where gravity is six times less than on Earth. We will spare you a second deeply poetic image, but you will understand: here again, this requires some precautions.
Especially since it’s not just about comfort. In enclosed spaces such as a space or lunar station, the management of microorganisms and biological material is absolutely fundamental to avoid infections. It goes without saying that managing the crew’s droppings is a priority for their health. Certainly, NASA has not needed the general public to allow all of its astronauts to relieve themselves so far. But the existing solutions systematically privileged – and this is quite normal – the practical aspect of the mission to the comfort of use of the astronauts. As we clearly enter a new era of space exploration, engineers are beginning to master their subject more than ever. They can therefore afford to devote time and resources to comfort, which will be essential for the success of long-term missions. For those of you who have discovered a passion for this theme, we recommend this absolutely amazing 2019 twitter thread on the subject (in English).