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Space Poop Problem-Solvers

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February 20, 2017 by John Crapper

 photo wetsuit.jpg

This picture illustrates why it is never advisable to fart in a wetsuit.  But what about astronauts and spacesuits?

Thousands of people have been spending thousands of hours working on the “Space Poop Challenge and on 2/15/17 NASA rewarded five members of the public for their creative ideas for how to poop in a spacesuit.

Currently, astronauts on spacewalks rely on diapers, which is a feasible solution for only a few hours at a time.  NASA is imagining a situation where an astronaut is stuck in a spacesuit for days during long journeys through space.

The NASA challenge: 

The super-portable-bathroom solution has to work quickly, easily, in micro-gravity, without impeding movement, for both men and women, for solid and liquid waste. It can either store waste in the suit or expel it. And it has to be comfortable … for up to six continuous days.

Since the project launched on the HeroX crowdsourcing site in October, nearly 20,000 people, from all over the world, submitted more than 5,000 ideas. They were competing for a total of $30,000 in prizes.

The winning solution came from an Air Force officer, family practice physician and flight surgeon named Thatcher Cardon.  His design was inspired by minimally invasive surgical techniques — and a strong desire not to store the poop.

“I never thought that keeping the waste in the suit would be any good,” he told NPR. “So I thought, ‘How can we get in and out of the suit easily?’ ”
“I thought about what I know regarding less invasive surgeries like laparoscopy or arthroscopy or even endovascular techniques they use in cardiology — they can do some amazing things in very small openings.

He designed a small airlock at the crotch of the suit, with a variety of items — including inflatable bedpans and diapers — that could be passed through the small opening and then expanded. His design even allows an astronaut to change underwear while inside the spacesuit, through the same small opening. (emphasis mine) 

And holy shit think about it.  Can you imagine enjoying being an interplanetary explorer if you’ve constantly got to use the bathroom and you can’t.

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