The first manned Orion spaceflight will likely fly with a new space poop system, NASA has revealed in a Space.com interview.
What this means: the designers could possibly see their poop collection system flying in space from 2021 to 2023 during Exploration Mission 2 (EM-2), tasked to bring astronauts beyond low-Earth orbit for the first time in 50 years.
Just recently, the space agency closed its “space poop challenge,” which sought out designs that build on the present spacesuit waste collection garment, sometimes simply called a diaper. On Feb. 16, it will announce the winning designs, which should work with any gender and capably flush away urine, poop, and menstrual fluid for a maximum of six days without the need to use the astronaut’s hands.
If you’re wondering about where the gross stuff will go, it will be moved away to naturally float in microgravity.
Space Poop Challenge
Kristyn Johnson, among the principal investigators of the study, said the garment would only be used in specific emergency cases that require being inside a pressurized suit for a longer time.
“For shorter durations, during launch and entry, the crew will plan to use an adult diaper as it fits our needs and is something we’ve used in the past,” she said in an email interview with Space.com.
At present, NASA uses the Extravehicular Mobility Unit (EMU) during spacewalks on the International Space Station. Introduced in 1981 for the longstanding space shuttle program, the spacesuit comprises a diaper-resembling garment useful for both men and women to relieve themselves.
No massive design upgrades have been done on the garment for years, so NASA began looking for a solution that can be integrated on the spacecraft for upcoming crewed Orion missions. EMU, for instance, is intended for work in microgravity, so the focus is on spacesuits that are more fitting for work on the Martian surface.
Once the challenge winners are announced, NASA will hold a suit system design review, where it will test and develop several options before deciding on which system to use.
Prospects For Waste Management In Space
Johnson said that EM-2 will be the space waste management system’s first flight, so depending on the results it could also be a feature of a future Mars mission.
In the 1960s, NASA used spacesuits with a built-in device for collecting astronauts’ urine. This was, however, only suitable for men, making it necessary to develop something new for both sexes. Older spacesuits, too, were tolerable for a mere 14 days because of the threat of suffocation.
Up until the Apollo program’s end, astronauts dealt with human excrement using a plastic bag attached to their rear end and eventually stowed for the rest of the spaceflight. Today on the space laboratory, astronauts are spared from that sticky situation, and instead use suction-powered toilets that do not need gravity to work.
Take a look at the evolution of U.S. spacesuits in this Spaceflight Insider feature.
In other news, the diet planned for astronauts on board the planned Orion mission involves high-calorie food bars, a far cry from the luxurious fare enjoyed by the ISS crew. At present, ISS crew members can eat any of the 200-odd items for meals.
The Orion mission will have limited room to accommodate the huge amount of supplies and process the waste they generate, so Orion astronauts would have to make do with these bars for deep-space sustenance.