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NASA calls for public submissions of a new kind of astronauts’ toilet on the Moon

Bradford Betz, July 1, 2020 9:00AM Fox News

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NASA is calling for a new space toilet design for use in lunar gravity for the 2024 Artemis mission. Picture: NASA/HeroX media_cameraNASA is calling for a new space toilet design for use in lunar gravity for the 2024 Artemis mission. Picture: NASA/HeroX

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NASA has launched a competition offering almost $30,000 for the best new space toilet design.

NASA needs a new toilet for astronauts ahead of its planned 2024 flight to the Moon.

The agency issued its invitation on HeroX, a platform where organisations can use crowdsourcing* to find solutions to complex problems.

While there are already space toilets at the International Space Station (ISS), they are designed for microgravity, meaning people and objects appear to be weightless.

But a mission to the Moon would require a special design for the toilets to work in lunar gravity, which is about one-sixth of Earth’s gravity.

(undated) -- Space toilet. The astronauts aboard the International Space Station and space shuttle use hand and footgrips to keep themselves attached to the toilet, then hold funnels close to their body. The waste is drained away by suction. Picture: NASA (no copyright applies) media_cameraThe astronauts aboard the International Space Station and space shuttle use hand and footgrips to keep themselves attached to the toilet, then hold funnels close to their body. The waste is drained away by suction. Picture: NASA

The design for the space toilet must follow a strict set of design guidelines or specifications. For example, it must weigh less than 14.97kg in Earth’s gravity, measure no more than about 0.12 cubic metres, use less than 70 watts of power — similar to many regular household light globes — and accommodate both males and females.

“While we may know how to make space toilets, we recognise that there are a lot of innovations going in waste management from the no-flush toilet to waterless toilets and more,” said Mike Interbartolo of NASA’s Johnson Space Center.

“So we wanted to expand our knowledge base by using this challenge to find the unknowns that might be out there.”

“We are looking forward to seeing what the crowdsourcing community can come up with that is out-of-the-box and bring different perspectives for what is needed for a toilet.”

The agency is offering first, second and third prizes of $US20,000 (almost $30,000); $US10,000 (about $14,500) and $US5000 (about $7273), respectively*.

The submission* deadline is August 17 and the winner will be announced on September 30.

media_cameraNASA and Canadian Space Agency (CSA) astronauts after their graduation ceremony at Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, US in January. One or some of these astronauts may be chosen to go to the Moon for the 2024 Artemis mission and would use the new toilet designed for lunary gravity. Picture: AFP

GLOSSARY

  • crowdsourcing: sourcing from “the crowd” or the public to achieve a common goal, such a new invention or idea
  • respectively: separately or individually in the order of the things already mentioned
  • submission: entry into a competition

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QUICK QUIZ

  1. When does NASA plan to go back to the Moon?
  2. Why can’t astronauts use the same kind of space toilets that are on the ISS?
  3. How much can the toilet weigh?
  4. Who is Mike? Where does he work?
  5. When does the competition close?

LISTEN TO THIS STORY

CLASSROOM ACTIVITIES
1. Create an advertisement
Not everybody reads HeroX. Design a poster advertisement for people to submit their space toilet designs that can be printed in a newspaper so that it reaches a wider audience. In your advertisement, include all the specifications that the toilet must meet (size, weight, power usage etc) as well as the due date, who to and where to send submissions and possible prize money.

Make your advertisement as enticing as possible so more people will enter the competition. Use large font and relevant images to attract attention.

Time: allow 40 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English, Science, The Arts – Visual Arts, Critical and Creative thinking

2. Extension
Less gravity on the Moon would make many tasks more difficult than here on Earth, going to the toilet being one of them! Luckily, they are looking at designing a toilet that specifically works on the Moon. You don’t want that content floating around!!

Make a list of 5 everyday tasks that would be more difficult with less gravity.

Imagine yourself completing one of these tasks on the Moon. Write a short anecdote of what you imagine one of these experiences might be like on the Moon without Moon specific-equipment. An example could be making your bed: could the sheets be too light to settle on the bed? How did you manage to achieve the task?

Time: allow 20 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English, Science, Critical and Creative thinking

VCOP ACTIVITY
Aside from this, there is also this!
Brackets are a great literacy tool for adding aside comments, or comments that could be covered over and the sentence still makes sense. What’s inside the brackets is extra information.

They can be used for a variety of effects: to add more detail, to add humour, to connect with the reader etc.

My little brother, (the funniest kid I know) got himself into big trouble today.

Select 3 sentences from the article to add an aside comment to using brackets. Think about not only what you want to add to the sentence, but also what effect you are trying to create.

HAVE YOUR SAY: What features would your space toilet invention have?
No one-word answers. Use full sentences to explain your thinking. No comments will be published until approved by editors.

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