Commentary: NASA Lunar Loo challenge invites public participation

By Dr. Samuel B. Hoff

Giddy after a successful partnership with SpaceX, which saw the first rocket launch and sea-based return of American astronauts in 45 years, NASA must get back to reality: It needs better toilets. 

At wits’ end as to how to solve this long-standing (actually sitting) problem, NASA has invited the public to compete for the best-designed commode in a contest called the Lunar Loo Challenge.  Entrants have until August 17 to submit plans.

Dr. Samuel B. Hoff

The wish for an improved chamber pot has become paramount for several reasons.  First, the existing privy on the International Space Station (ISS) was built in the 1990s.  Second, the intended return to the moon within four years as part of the Artemis Program means that there must be a water closet that works both in deep space and on the lunar surface, whereas the current model of netty only flushes in microspace.

 Actually, NASA’s head issues have always presented headaches.  The Apollo 10 mission, a precursor to the July 1969 moon landing, apparently included an incident involving floating feces.  Both before and since that time, astronauts have complained about the use, cleaning of and smell of the pungent potty. 

The Lunar Loo Challenge includes a purse of $35,000, to be split three ways among the top designs.  Entrants must satisfy multiple criteria including quality, innovation, feasibility and likelihood of development within three years.  Moreover, the updated latrine must be lady-friendly to accommodate female astronauts.  Dimension-wise, the new can must be lightweight and compact.  Further, the winning throne must be able to expunge normal excrement together with diarrhea, vomit, menses, or a combination of same.  Finally, the chosen comfort station must have storage capability of up to fourteen days at a time.

In addition to prize money, winners of the crapper competition get to meet NASA engineers and take a tour of the Johnson Space Center.  There is also a youth category of competition, with winners at that level earning a certificate and some NASA merchandise.

While the adult winners will be announced on September 30, young victors will be identified on October 20.

The Lunar Loo Challenge should be a win-win for those exploring outer space as well as those back home.  Like other inventions for space which have been co-opted for employment on Earth – think Tang breakfast drink among others – the champion choo could be constructed for home and business utilization alike.  Then everyone might say they knew john or visited the oval office. 

Visit Herox.com/LunarLoo for more information on this exciting restroom race.

Dr. Samuel B. Hoff is George Washington Distinguished Professor Emeritus of History and Political Science at Delaware State University.  He worked in the family business in Williamsport, PA from 1972 through 1979, a plumbing, heating, and electrical supply wholesaler.