We don't know where or when NASA does its best thinking, but at some point recently, the agency decided there might be a better idea for a toilet to use in space. One that works on the surface of the moon would be especially helpful. So it's asking the public for designs, the Verge reports, and putting up as much as $35,000 in prize money. The design will have to take much into account. The toilet will be used on the way to the moon, so it will have to work in the weightlessness of orbit, as well as on the lunar surface, where gravity is about one-sixth that on Earth. It will need to work for men and women; NASA plans to send the next crew to the moon by 2024, which will include a female astronaut. "Bonus points will be awarded to designs that can capture vomit without requiring the crew member to put his/her head in the toilet," according to the NASA guidelines, per CNN.
The toilet should be able to sustain the two astronauts for 14 days, needing only five minutes between visits. It shouldn't need more than 70 watts of power to operate and be quieter than a typical bathroom fan. It shouldn't weigh more than 33 pounds—as measured on Earth, not in orbit. And, of course, it should be easy to clean. NASA also intends soon to try out a new toilet on the International Space Station, which now has two toilets. The astronauts could spend six days on the moon, which is why they'd appreciate something like a regular toilet on the surface. "We want to make it as comfortable and as close to home life as possible," the project manager said. Like other NASA systems, the toilet will need to have redundancies built in, so that if there's a failure, it doesn't cause a mess. (Read more NASA stories.)