When Thatcher Cardon considered NASA's Space Poop Challenge—seeking a solution that would allow astronauts to relieve themselves while wearing a space suit for up to six days—he thought about how doctors can "replace heart valves now through catheters in an artery" and concluded that a small opening could surely "handle a little bit of poop." Using materials from thrift, hardware, and dollar stores, per Space.com, the Air Force flight surgeon then put a small airlock into the crotch of an old flight suit to allow diapers and inflatable bedpans to pass through. It was a $15,000 idea, reports NPR. Cardon took the top prize in the Space Poop Challenge among 5,000 solutions submitted from every country and continent, Antarctica included, per CNN.
A team also took home $10,000 for its "Air-PUSH Urinary Girdle," a diaper that uses air to direct waste away from the body using a small tube, which might also be used in hospitals and nursing homes, per the Guardian. A third winner took home $5,000 for his "Zero Gravity Underwear" that seals and sanitizes waste. NASA says elements from the winning designs will be combined with existing ideas to create a solution that will ultimately be tested in space. The final product will then be placed on NASA's Orion spacecraft designed for long space missions. In the case that "something catastrophic has happened," leaving astronauts unable to use a toilet or space diaper as usual, the solution will "save the crew," a NASA rep says. (Astronauts drink recycled urine.)