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.
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 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.
The US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) seeks proposed solutions for urine, fecal and menstrual management systems to be used in the crew’s launch and entry suits over a continuous duration of up to 144 hours. An in-suit waste management system would be beneficial for contingency scenarios or for any long duration tasks.
Waste management systems should address fecal, urine, and/or menstrual waste management in a pressurized survival suit environment for six days while protecting the safety and health of crew members. Solutions should provide for urine collection of up to 1L per day per crew member, for a total of 6 days. Fecal collection rates should be targeted for 75 grams of fecal mass and 75 mL fecal volume per crewmember per day for a total of 6 days duration. Menstrual collection systems should handle up to 80 mL over 6 days.
NASA will award the Solutions it judges to be the most promising for implementation and use on missions in the next three or four years. NASA will consider collaborating with winners and/or other competitors, subject to NASA rules and regulations for contract procurement.
Spaceflight launch and entry suits are worn for launch and entry activities to protect the crew from any off-nominal events. Up until now, a crew member could be in their launch and entry suit for more than 10 hours at a time leading up to either a launch or landing scenario, and former astronauts have worn diapers in case they need to relieve themselves. The diaper is only used temporarily until the crew has successfully launched from or returned to Earth. It is eventually removed along with the launch and entry suit.
Future missions may require long-duration waste management for use by a pressurized suited crew member. In the event of cabin depressurization or other contingency, crew members may need to take refuge in their launch and entry suits for a long-duration (144-hour). The crew member will have less than 60 minutes to get into and seal their spacesuit. To ensure the crew member’s safety, the Solution needs to take no more than 5 minutes of that time. The crew member will remain in their suit at a pressure of 4.3 PSID and in 100% oxygen environment, with a few tasks to complete inside the depressurized vehicle prior to vehicle. A system to route and collect human waste away from the body without the use of hands, that operates in the prescribed environment, is being sought to keep astronauts alive and healthy over 144 hours.
Current commercial products that provide urine waste management utilize gravity to route and collect urine away from the body. Some require the use of hands, and most are not meant to be used for 144 hours. No commercial products have been found that provide fecal waste management for a 144-hour period with or without the use of hands. While the implemented Solution can be discarded after each mission, it does have to function well for 6 days and multiple bowel and bladder evacuations.
ABOUT POOPING IN SPACE….
This challenge does not require you to be working in a field involving microgravity or to fully understand how the body and fluids work in a microgravity environment. We are going to tell you a bit about what ‘s different.
First, microgravity is what you might call “Zero Gravity”. Think vacuum. In a vacuum, solids, liquids and gases do not act the way they do on earth, where they are influenced by earth’s gravity. You probably have no problem imagining things floating around in space. Yes, sometimes solids, liquids, and gases do this. But they also might cling to the nearest surface due to surface tension. Imagine taking a shower up in space and having a glob of water under your armpit. Also, on earth, solids and liquids would likely mix together at least a little when in contact. Maybe not in microgravity.
As for your bodily functions. Well, 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. Menstrual fluid? At least some of it will exit a woman’s body. You don’t want that traveling around your suit. 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.
You don’t want any of these solids and fluids stuck to your body for 6 days. If you have ever taken care of a baby, you know how easy it is to get diaper rash. Left untreated, that can turn into a dangerous infection. You don’t want fecal matter getting into the urethra or the vagina, causing urinary tract or vaginal infections. Of course, you don’t want them to migrate to mouth, nose, ears or cuts. The point? Your Solution has to keep all of these materials away from the body, its orifices, and the spacesuit air inlet/outlet orifices.
How has NASA handled this in the past? Well, for one thing, they weren’t handling it for 6 days. Maybe a few hours. In the recent past, astronauts have worn an extremely absorbent adult diaper. Most of the time the diaper is there for emergencies. Prior to that, men wore Urine Collection and Transfer Assembly (UCTA) and Fecal Collection Systems (FCS). Women have never had anything besides the adult diaper while wearing a suit. When not wearing a suit, but within the vehicle, women had a choice of 3 versions of cup-type urine collection systems that used air flow to effectively cause urine to swirl away from a woman’s body. No matter how you look at it, getting rid of wastes has been complicated, crude, uncomfortable, and messy, even with the use of hands. And now we are saying that you don’t have use of your hands – at least not inside the suit next to your body.
ABOUT THE SPACE SUIT
You will design a solution that can be incorporated into the orange Modified Advanced Crew Escape Suit (MACES). MACES has been adapted for missions of longer duration than the original Advanced Crew Escape Suit (ACES) was designed for.
The whole suit, including the gloves, is pressurized to 4.3 PSID to enable the body to function properly. Without pressure the body swells, loses most of its circulation, and of course, causes extreme pain. The gloves are attached by metal bearings to the sleeves to ensure a proper seal. Once the suit is sealed, it must remain sealed until the astronaut enters another pressurized environment. While sealed, it is impossible for an astronaut to access their own body, even to scratch their nose.
Gas (100% oxygen) enters at 4.5 cubic feet per minute through a waist level connector to fill the 2” space between the astronaut’s body and the suit, and circulates out through another waist level connector to be cleaned and brought back to the suit. A mesh cover protects against particles getting into the air connectors. If they did get inside, they could easily block the flow of air.
This gas supply is clearly a very precious commodity. While a very small amount is lost to leakage, the Solution must not add to this leakage. However, careful use of 1000 cubic centimeters per minute (0.01 cubic feet per minute) over a period of 3 minutes per use would not jeopardize the integrity of the suit.
The suit allows the astronauts to move around, get into tight spaces, and sit down and buckle up for long periods of time. Your Solution should be comfortable in all of these situations.
Finally, a small power sources of up to 28V with current below 100mA could be provided inside or outside of the suit.
PLANS FOR THE WINNING SOLUTIONS
NASA is ideally looking for Solutions that are comprised of technologies at a minimum Technical Readiness Level (TRL) of level 4, such that the Solution can be tested within 1 year and fully implemented within 3 years. However, for breakthrough innovations, NASA will consider Solutions that are at a lower TRL and therefore a longer implementation timeline.
NASA will consider collaborating with winners and/or other competitors, subject to NASA rules and regulations for contract procurement.
The challenge offers up to $30,000 USD in prizes to innovative solutions for long duration waste management in a microgravity environment. NASA will award up to three prizes for the best ideas.
NASA will award the Solutions it judges to be the most promising for implementation and use on missions in the next three or four years.
How do I win?
To be eligible for an award, the solution must, at minimum:
The Solution may include a variety of approaches, including, but not limited to:
The judging panel will rank the eligible Solutions submitted against the following criteria:
|Soundness and Technical Readiness of the design|
Likelihood that the Solution will work as described to satisfy the minimum requirements with a minimum of risk. This includes the technical readiness level (TLR) of the design.
|Gas Conservation||Effectiveness at ensuring the conservation of gas in the crew member’s suit||10|
|Health and Safety||Level of health and safety the Solution will provide to the crew member including dryness and prevention of pain, infection and permanent injury||15|
|Suit Integrity||Effectiveness ensuring the integrity of the crew member’s suit, including the number of entry/exit points required||15|
|Speed||Ease and feasibility of integrating the Solution with the body and the suit within 5 minutes.||10|
|Ease of Use/ Constraints||Ease of use given the constraints required for using (e.g., clean shaven, limitations on timing of waste elimination, requirement to be near a specific technology, etc.)||10|
|Comfort||Level of physical, emotional, and psychological comfort the crew member will experience using the Solution, including while donning, moving around, and seated and strapped in||10|
|Ease of Incorporation||Ease of incorporating into existing suits and vehicle,||5|
|Other Benefits||Other benefits that the judges identify or the competitor points out that do not fall into the above categories. Could also include judge preferences, such as for simplicity.||5|
The Prize is open to individuals, age 18 or older, private teams, public teams, and collegiate teams. Individual competitors and teams may originate from any country, as long as United States federal sanctions do not prohibit participation (see: https://www.treasury.gov/resource-center/sanctions/Programs/Pages/Programs.aspx). If you are a NASA employee, a Government contractor, or employed by a Government Contractor, your participation in this challenge may be restricted.
Submissions must be made in English. All challenge-related communication will be in English.
No specific qualifications or expertise in the field of microgravity or waste management is required. Prize organizers encourage outside individuals and non-expert teams to compete and propose new solutions.
To be eligible to compete, you must comply with all the terms of the challenge as defined in the Challenge-Specific Agreement, which will be made available upon registration.
Innovators who are awarded a prize for their submission must agree to grant NASA a royalty free, non-exclusive, irrevocable, world-wide license in all Intellectual Property demonstrated by the winning/awarded submissions. See the Challenge-Specific Agreement, which will be made available upon registration, for full details on intellectual property.
Registration and Submissions:
Submissions must be made online (only), via upload to the HeroX.com website, on or before 11:59pm EST on December 20th, 2016. All uploads must be in PDF format. No late submissions will be accepted.
Selection of Winners:
Based on the winning criteria, prizes will be awarded per the weighted Judging Criteria section above.
The determination of the winners will be made by HeroX based on evaluation by relevant NASA specialists.