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NASA Needs Your Help Making It Easier to Poop in Space

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In space, completing simple actions like clipping your nails, washing your hair, and crying can be a challenge. Pooping presents an especially pesky hurdle for astronauts to overcome. When they aren’t doing their business on suction-based toilets that shoot waste into space, astronauts are forced to relieve themselves in the adult diapers they wear in their suits. NASA believes there’s a better way, and they’re asking for your help to find it.

As Fast Company reports, NASA’s Space Poop Challenge is calling on citizens to submit their ideas for collecting human waste inside space suits and routing away it away from the body hands-free. The crew aboard a spacecraft can be stuck inside their space suits for up to 10 hours at a time during launch and landing, and up to six days in the case of a disaster. To prepare for such emergencies, NASA asks that the system be capable of collecting urine, feces, and menstrual fluid for 144 hours straight.

In addition to devising a mechanism that’s safe and sanitary, inventors will also need to account for the conditions in space. As you can imagine, microgravity, unwanted waste, and a cramped suit don’t mix well together. Anyone who’s up for the challenge has until December 20 to send in their proposals. The winner will be rewarded for their dirty work with a $30,000 prize.

[h/t Fast Company]

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The Netherlands Is Paving Its Roads With Recycled Toilet Paper
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There are plenty of bike lanes in the notoriously pro-cycling country that is the Netherlands, but only one is made of toilet paper. In the country's northwest province of Friesland, a 0.6-mile bike path connecting two towns is the first to be paved with recycled toilet paper, according to CityLab.

The TP helps maintain traction on slippery roads, as one expert told CityLab. The recycled toilet paper is used to add cellulose into open-graded asphalt friction course (OGFC), a type of water-permeable blacktop. This type of paving material is better at draining water, an especially important characteristic for surfaces in the Netherlands, where flood control is a necessary precaution. The cellulose helps stabilize the mixture that makes up the asphalt, known as OGAF. The recycling technology used to build the bike lane was developed by the Dutch consultants KNN and the wastewater tech company CirTec.

Two men stand on a paving machine in front of an asphalt bike lane.

There are plenty of materials that contain cellulose, but paving roads is a pretty good use for the one type of recycled cellulose that can’t be incorporated into a lot of other products: the kind that comes into regular contact with poop.

The recycled toilet paper in this case is collected during wastewater processing, where it’s separated out from all that excrement and then sterilized, bleached, and dried for reuse. People tend to not want to come in contact with things that have touched poop, though, so no amount of sterilization makes it OK to turn the product into recycled napkins or other paper products. But since toilet paper is typically a source of high-quality cellulose fibers (from wood chips or recycled paper), it would be a shame to waste it. Hence the pavement, which is mixed at such high temperatures that the manufacturing process would kill off any remaining pathogens that might possibly lurk within the post-treatment TP.

Friesland’s toilet paper asphalt has been around for about a year now, and according to CityLab writer Tiffany R. Jansen, it looks almost identical to the rest of the bike path. The toilet paper-laced asphalt has since been used to pave a parking lot and a dyke in the region, too.

As long as we’re wiping our butts with paper, we might as well recycle the results. Yes, toilet paper grows on trees, but that doesn’t mean we should waste it. Though the cellulose from the toilet paper only makes up about 5 percent of the pavement mixture with this technology, it’s still a good way to make a dent in city waste. Until everyone gets on the bidet train, that is.

[h/t CityLab]

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Stones, Bones, and Wrecks
Archaeologists in Boston May Have Unearthed Paul Revere's Bathroom
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Cyrus E. Dallin, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

Listen, my children, and you shall hear, of the brick-lined privy of Paul Revere … perhaps. Archaeologists in Boston may have unearthed the outhouse of the famed figure, CBS Boston reports.

Recent excavations at the site of Revere's home, which was constructed in Boston's North End in 1711, have revealed a 4-foot-by-6-foot rectangular structure made from bricks. Since it was too small to be a house or shed foundation, it was likely once used as a privy.

Eighteenth-century colonial settlers built these early restrooms by digging a large pit and lining it with bricks and clay, so their unsavory contents wouldn't contaminate wells. Finds like these often serve as (gross) time capsules of sorts, as people of the colonial era frequently disposed of household waste and other unwanted items by simply tossing them into their toilets.

In addition to uncovering artifacts from the prospective privy (so far, they've found a beer stein handle, animal teeth, pottery fragments, and some coal pieces), experts hope to examine, well, other types of waste, which could provide new insights into the diets of settlers. We "can get seeds from what they were eating," city archaeologist Joe Bagley told WBZ NewsRadio 1030. "We can find parasites, find out what their health was."

That said, archaeologists still have to verify that the structure in question is, indeed, an 18th-century toilet before going forward with these plans. To do so, they'll dig down to it at depths of up to 6 feet (a 1650 law in Boston required colonists to adhere to this privy depth, although not everyone followed regulations), and see if it has "nightsoils," which Bagley described as "smelly, dark soils which are now composted and not that bad, but they might have a stench still, a little bit.” Hopefully its stink will be mitigated by plenty of archaeological treasures.

[CBS Boston]

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