Air Force Col. Thatcher Cardon, commander of the 47th Medical Group at Laughlin Air Force Base in Texas, was awarded $15,000 by NASA for developing a revolutionary new method for relieving yourself in space. Cardon is the proud winner of the NASA Space Poop Challenge, a competition designed to challenge creative minds to come up with creative ways for astronauts to manage personal waste in space.
Current spacesuits force astronauts to either hold their urine and feces for up to 12 hours at a time, fast, or use a diaper. In an effort to ditch bulky, old-fashioned, diapers, NASA challenged the general public to create a new way for astronauts to dispose of urine and feces for up to 144 hours, or six days at a time without exiting their spacesuits. Col. Thatcher Cardon delivered a hands-free and mess-free solution.
“You need to plan for emergencies. If a small meteor puts a hole in the Orion spacecraft, for example, astronauts might have to spend six days in their suits until they can get back to Earth or they can fix the hole,” Cardon tells Business Insider. “There was no option inside of a spacesuit for feces, except for a diaper, until now.”
The MACES Perineal Access and Toileting System, or M-PATS, uses suction to remove fecal matter and urine from the spacesuit using an airlock hatch. The waste is then contained in an external storage unit that can be disposed.
Cardon says his revolutionary design was inspired by laparoscopy surgery and sexy lingerie. The M-PATS uses a universal suction box and “strapless underwear” modeled after C-string underwear. Cardon told Air Force Times he ordered lingerie online then “tore off the leopard skin lace” and replaced it with terrycloth.
The suction box uses gentle airflow to draw fecal matter and fluids into an external “inflatable bedpan” in a process similar to the one used by the toilet on the international space station. Cardon’s design, however, makes the entire bathroom process far more compact and gives astronauts the convenience of never having to leave their suit.
“If you’re on Mars walking around, you’d have to run back to the bathroom every time,” he said. “If you can handle that in your suit, it opens a lot of options”
The revolutionary new waste disposal system will prevent future astronauts from delaying research so they can answer the call of nature. Cordon says that he plans to use the prize money to feed his creativity. He plans to buy new tools so that he can pursue metal machining, and create new prototypes out of aluminum.