- Before NASA can fly astronauts to the moon, it must design a toilet for the crew.
- The agency’s “Lunar Loo” contest offered $20,000 for a space toilet design that would work both in microgravity and on the lunar surface.
- The space agency announced the contest winner this week, as well as the designs that took second and third place.
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The last time astronauts landed on the moon, in December 1972, they wore glorified diapers.
NASA never designed a proper toilet for the Apollo missions. Instead, the astronauts — all of whom were men — peed into roll-on cuffs, pooped in bags, and used space diapers when they ventured out of the lander in their spacesuits.
NASA sent the first space toilet to the earliest US space station in 1973. The technology has improved since then, and the agency’s latest $23 million space-toilet system contains state-of-the-art fans that suction waste downward and provide odor control.
But now that NASA is working to send astronauts back to the moon in 2024, it’s designing a new kind of toilet: one that can work both in orbit and on the lunar surface, where gravity is about one-sixth as strong as Earth’s.
“We need a toilet that needs to work for seven days on the surface of the moon, as well as during that transit time to and from the moon,” Mike Interbartolo, who’s part of NASA’s lunar-lander engineering team, previously told Business Insider.
To accomplish that goal, the agency launched its “Lunar Loo” contest in June, in partnership with HeroX: a platform on which people can host contests, similar to the way fundraising efforts use Kickstarter. NASA invited engineers, designers, and space enthusiasts around the world to submit designs for moon-mission toilets.
All submissions had to work for male and female astronauts of varying heights and weights, and weigh less than 33 lbs (15 kg) in Earth’s gravity.
“Bonus points will be awarded to designs that can capture vomit without requiring the crew member to put his/her head in the toilet,” NASA’s guidelines said.
The contest received over 2,000 entries from around the world. On Thursday, NASA announced the winners. First place went to a team that designed a toilet they call the Translunar Hypercritical Repository 1 (THRONE). The team, led by Washington-based engineer Boone Davidson, based its design on advice from former astronaut Susan Helms.
That toilet won $20,000 in prize money, and the two runners up also got cash prizes. Here are the contest’s three winners.
The first-place winners sought guidance from a retired astronaut
The team behind