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(Photo via NASA)

It’s easy to forget that, despite sending 240 astronauts to the International Space Station over two decades, humans haven’t stepped foot on the Moon since December 1972. Now, as NASA prepares to land the first woman and next man on Earth’s satellite by 2024, there are some basic needs to be met—starting with a working toilet.

NASA is calling on folks around the world to help design a compact commode for use in microgravity and lunar gravity. The appropriately named Lunar Loo Challenge opened this week, inviting anyone to submit a concept that may be adapted for use in NASA’s Artemis lunar landers. But, you may rightfully wonder, don’t space toilets exist? People on the ISS, after all, must urinate and defecate somewhere. And while the Space Station does indeed feature a cosmic can (there are numerous YouTube video tours), it is designed for microgravity only.

“NASA’s Human Landing System Program is looking for a next-generation device that is smaller, more efficient, and,” the agency explained, “capable of working in both microgravity and lunar gravity.” The former—the condition in which people or objects appear weightless—is different from the Moon’s surface gravity, and therefore requires distinct ways to eliminate waste.

“While astronauts are in the cabin and out of their spacesuits, they will need a toilet that has all the same capabilities as ones here on Earth,” according to a NASA press release announcing the Lunar Loo Challenge.

“Getting back to the Moon by 2024 is an ambitious goal, and NASA is already working on approaches to miniaturize and streamline the existing toilets,” the Challenge page said. “But they are also inviting ideas from the global community, knowing that they will approach the problem with a mindset different from traditional aerospace engineering. This challenge hopes to attract radically new and different approaches to the problem of human waste capture and containment.”

Think you can solve the powder room puzzle? Enter your idea online for a chance to win a share of the $35,000 prize pot (shared among teams submitting the top three designs in the Technical category). Creatives under the age of 18 can participate in the Junior category for a shot at public recognition and an item of official NASA merchandise. The competition closes on Aug. 17, 2020.

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