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NASA Announces Winners of the 'Space Poop Challenge'

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Last year, NASA asked the public for help solving a problem facing its astronauts: how to collect and store poop in space. Now NPR reports that the five winners of the "Space Poop Challenge" have been announced, and their ideas are out of this world.

Astronauts currently rely on adult diapers when they need to do their business inside their space suits. As NASA wrote back in October: "After all: when you gotta go, you gotta go. And sometimes you gotta go in a total vacuum."

Looking for a more high-tech way to deal with these sticky circumstances, the space agency called on members of the public to submit designs for a system capable of collecting urine, feces, and menstrual fluid and routing it away from the body for 144 hours straight.

Close to 20,000 contestants submitted over 5000 ideas through the crowdsourcing site HeroX, and on Wednesday, February 15 five winners were revealed. Flight surgeon and family practice physician Thatcher Cardon was awarded the $15,000 grand prize for his ingenious waste-disposing suit hatch. Inspired by completing complex procedures in tight places as a surgeon, he designed a small airlock in the crotch for passing underwear, inflatable bedpans, and diapers in and out of the space suit.

The second-place team is made up of a physician, a dentist, and an engineering professor who all live in Houston, Texas and studied chemical engineering in college. Their "Air-PUSH Urinary Girdle" uses air to guide waste away from the body and stores it in a different part of the suit. The group, competing under the name Space Poop Unification of Doctors (or SPUDs), won $10,000 for the idea.

The third-place $5000 prize went to UK-based product designer Hugo Shelley for his "Zero Gravity Underwear." According to NPR, he says that the skin-tight undergarment "features a new catheter designed for extended use in microgravity, combined with a mechanism that compresses, seals, and sanitizes solid waste."

In perfect scenarios, astronauts would never spend anywhere near 144 hours in their suits and wouldn't need to worry about the question of long-term waste collection. The designs are more for disaster situations when crew members might find themselves stuck in their space suits for up to six days at a time. After building prototypes of the winning ideas, NASA next hopes to test the systems on the International Space Station.

[h/t NPR]

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Gregory H. Revera, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0
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Space
Study Suggests There's Water Beneath the Moon's Surface
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Gregory H. Revera, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

Astronauts may not need to go far to find water outside Earth. As CNN reports, Brown University scientists Ralph E. Milliken and Shuai Li suspect there are significant amounts of water churning within the Moon’s interior.

Their findings, published in the journal Nature Geoscience, lean on the discovery of glass beads encased in the Moon’s volcanic rock deposits. As recently as 100 million years ago, the Earth’s moon was a hotbed of volcanic activity. Evidence of that volatile time can still be found in the ancient ash and volcanic rock that’s scattered across the surface.

Using satellite imagery, the researchers identified tiny water droplets preserved inside glass beads that formed in the volcanic deposits. While water makes up a small fraction of each bead, its presence suggests there’s significantly more of it making up the Moon’s mantle.

Milliken and Li aren't the first scientists to notice water in lunar rocks. In 2008, volcanic materials collected from the Moon during the Apollo missions of 1971 and 1972 were revealed to contain the same water-flecked glass beads that the Brown scientists made the basis of their recent study. They took their research further by analyzing images captured across the face of the Moon and quickly saw the Apollo rocks represented a larger trend. "The distribution of these water-rich deposits is the key thing," Milliken said in a press statement. "They're spread across the surface, which tells us that the water found in the Apollo samples isn't a one-off. Lunar pyroclastics seem to be universally water-rich, which suggests the same may be true of the mantle."

The study challenges what we know about the Moon's formation, which scientists think occurred when a planet-sized object slammed into the Earth 4.5 billion years ago. "The growing evidence for water inside the Moon suggests that water did somehow survive, or that it was brought in shortly after the impact by asteroids or comets before the Moon had completely solidified," Li said. "The exact origin of water in the lunar interior is still a big question."

The findings also hold exciting possibilities for the future of space travel. NASA scientists have already considered turning the Moon into a water station for astronauts on their way to Mars. If water on the celestial body is really as abundant as the evidence may suggest, figuring out how to access that resource will definitely be on NASA's agenda.

[h/t CNN]

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Bruce Weaver / Stringer / Getty Images
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NASA Is Posting Hundreds of Retro Flight Research Videos on YouTube
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Bruce Weaver / Stringer / Getty Images

If you’re interested in taking a tour through NASA history, head over to the YouTube page of the Armstrong Flight Research Center, located at Edwards Air Force Base, in southern California. According to Motherboard, the agency is in the middle of posting hundreds of rare aircraft videos dating back to the 1940s.

In an effort to open more of its archives to the public, NASA plans to upload 500 historic films to YouTube over the next few months. More than 300 videos have been published so far, and they range from footage of a D-558 Skystreak jet being assembled in 1947 to a clip of the first test flight of an inflatable-winged plane in 2001. Other highlights include the Space Shuttle Endeavour's final flight over Los Angeles and a controlled crash of a Boeing 720 jet.

The research footage was available to the public prior to the mass upload, but viewers had to go through the Dryden Aircraft Movie Collection on the research center’s website to see them. The current catalogue on YouTube is much easier to browse through, with clear playlist categories like supersonic aircraft and unmanned aerial vehicles. You can get a taste of what to expect from the page in the sample videos below.

[h/t Motherboard]

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