Since the days of Alan Shepard and the Space Race, NASA astronauts have worn diapers while inside their space suits. However, if they relieved themselves during that time they would have to stew in their own juices until they could remove the suit, which could be hours later.
For this reason, NASA created the Space Poop Challenge. "Future missions may require long-duration waste management for use by a pressurized suited crew member," wrote NASA in the contest description.
"In the event of cabin depressurization or other contingency, crew members may need to take refuge in their launch and entry suits for a long-duration: 144 hours. The crew member will have less than 60 minutes to get into and seal their spacesuit. To ensure the crew member's safety, the Solution needs to take no more than five minutes of that time."
The winner of the contest, and the $15,000 prize money, is Air Force colonel and amateur inventor Dr. Thatcher Cardon. "I was really interested in the problem, though, and spent some time lying down, eyes closed, just visualizing different solutions and modelling them mentally," Cardon said.
"Over time, the winning system of ideas coalesced. Then, I packed up the family, and we drove around Del Rio, Texas, to dollar stores, thrift stores, craft stores, clothing and hardware stores to get materials for mock-ups."
Cardon's solution, MACES Perineal Access & Toileting System, or M-PATS for short, is a small airlock in the flight suit's crotch that allows a diaper or an inflatable bedpan to be inserted or removed. He based it on artery catheters that doctors use to replace heart valves, if they could fit something like a heart valve through a thin tube, then surely it could handle anything else the digestive system could throw at it.
The runner-up winner of $10,000 was the Space Poop Unification of Doctors (SPUDs) Team – Air-powered, by Katherine Kin, Stacey Marie Louie and Tony Gonzales. SPUDs is a diaper that uses air to direct waste away from the body. Third place and $5,000 went to "Spacesuit Waste Disposal System" by Hugo Shelley, which seals and cleans bodily waste.
NASA hopes to have new waste disposal systems implemented on missions within 3-4 years.