For years, the problem of space poop by astronauts confined to spacesuits has been dealt with in a very old-fashioned way - i.e., diapers (nappies in the UK). An ok solution in the short-term, but not satisfactory if you may need to stay in your suit for a period of days - unhygienic and unhealthy.
This week the competition winners were announced, chosen from five thousand ideas submitted by nearly 20,000 people who rose to the challenge, working individually or in teams. Many interesting solutions were put forward in the competition, with a prize fund of $30k, but in the end, three winning ideas were selected.
THE WINNER - The top prize ($15k) went to US Air Force Colonel Thatcher Cardon, a family practice physician and flight surgeon whose design was inspired by minimally invasive surgical techniques and a strong desire to find a way to actually remove the waste from the suit. His concept, which he called "MACES Perineal Access & Toileting System" features a small airlock built into the crotch area of the spacesuit, through which a variety of items could be passed and then expanded, such as a bedpan or diaper, before being deflated with the poop inside and removed again. Seems ingenious, and actually removing the poop from the suit is certainly the best way to go.
Second place and a prize of $10k went to a team called the Space Poop Unification of Doctors, in fact a medical doctor, engineering professor and dentist, whose design uses an air-powered system to direct all waste matter down and to the rear and away from the astronaut's body to be stored in a different section of the suit. And third place and winner of $5k was awarded to a product designer from the UK, Hugo Shelley, for his solution called, the "SWIMSuit — Zero Gravity Underwear", designed for 6-day use and which disinfects and stores waste inside the suit.
According to NASA sources, the response to the Space Poop Challenge exceeded expectations and produced a global response with many innovative ideas - so perhaps we may see more challenges like this thrown out to the general public in the future. There are many problems linked to space travel, and particularly to long-term missions, that have not yet been resolved, despite a plethora of the best scientific and engineering minds having worked on them for years. Maybe some solutions are easier to be seen by fresh minds thinking "outside-the-box" - a crowdsourcing approach could lead to more innovative and original ideas to address hitherto unsolved spaceflight challenges.