NASA Opens Contest for Space Toilet Design

Category: Human Interest


Unlocking Word Meanings

Read the following words/expressions found in today’s article.

  1. loo / lu / (n) – toilet

    I need to go to the loo.

  2. novel / ˈnɒv əl / (adj) – new or original

    To resolve this ongoing issue, he proposed a novel approach to the problem.

  3. merchandise / ˈmɜr tʃənˌdaɪz / (n) – products that are for sale

    The online store has a wide selection of discounted merchandise.

  4. come up with (something) / kʌm ʌp wɪθ / (phrasal) – to think of or propose a plan or idea

    Our boss asked us to come up with a theme for our upcoming event.

  5. efficient / ɪˈfɪʃ ənt / (adj) – describing something that is used without wasting resources

    The company is developing energy-efficient systems to keep homes warm.


Read the text below.

NASA is inviting people around the world to design a space toilet through its Lunar Loo Challenge.

The contest seeks novel designs for toilets that can be used both on the International Space Station (ISS) and the moon. The creator of the winning design will receive $20,000, while the second and third place designers will receive $10,000 and $5,000, respectively. The winners will also get the chance to explore NASA’s Johnson Space Center and meet engineers from the space agency.

Participants under the age of 18 can enter the contest’s junior category and win official NASA merchandise.

While the ISS already has toilets, they are designed for zero-gravity environments. For the Lunar Loo Challenge, participants will have to come up with a design that will also work in low-gravity environments like the moon. The toilet should also be lightweight and compact, with a mass less than 15 kilograms in Earth’s gravity and a volume equal to or less than 0.12 cubic meters. It should also be power-efficient, low-noise, and accessible to all users.

According to Mike Interbartolo, manager of the Lunar Loo Challenge, NASA created the contest to gather different ideas and perspectives to improve toilet facilities in space. The space agency believes that the challenge will help them approach problems with a fresh mindset and get creative in developing solutions.

Viewpoint Discussion

Enjoy a discussion with your tutor.

Discussion A

• Do you think it’s a good move for NASA to get ideas from the public to create a new space toilet design? Why or why not?
• Would you be interested in joining the Lunar Loo Challenge? Why or why not?

Discussion B

• What other issues do you think can be solved by contests/challenges (e.g. sustainability, species extinction)? Explain.
• Why do you think some organizations resort to contests when trying to solve an issue? Explain.