NASA's 'space poop challenge' is over, and here are the winners

Using the bathroom in zero gravity can be kind of tricky.

When hurtling through space, an unmet toilet is one of the last things an astronaut worries about when nature calls.

The solution is much simpler when in a pressure-controlled spacecraft -- find a toilet. And the National Aeronautics and Space Administration provides astronauts with special diapers for space-walks that can last for hours.

But what if an astronaut needs to be in a spacesuit for up to six days?

See Twitter reactions to NASA's space poop challenge

To answer that question, NASA recruited the help of the public to find solutions that to provide space suits for astronauts that would allow urination and defecation for up to six days, introducing the $15,000 prize Space Poop Challenge last October.

As it turns out, this is a problem that puzzles a lot of people.

The association received over 5,000 entries -- representing 20,000 people -- in response to the challenge. But there was only one grand prize winner announced Wednesday, Thatcher Cardon.

Cardon, a family physician, flight surgeon and Air Force officer, called his solution the "MACES Perineal Access & Toileting System (M-PATS)."

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"I was really interested in the problem, though, and spent some time lying down, eyes closed, just visualizing different solutions and modeling them mentally," Cardon, said in a statement released to HeroX, which oversaw the poop challenge for NASA.

"Over time, the winning system of ideas coalesced," said Cardon. "Then, I packed up the family, and we drove around Del Rio, Texas, to dollar stores, thrift stores, craft stores, clothing and hardware stores to get materials for mock-ups."

The runner-up prize of $10,000 was awarded to Katherine Kin, Stacey Marie Louie and Tony Gonzales. Their system was dubbed "Space Poop Unification of Doctors (SPUDs) Team – Air-powered."

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Scientists at NASA were pleased with the excitement generated by the public for the poop challenge.

Steve Rader, NASA tournament lab deputy director, said in a statement, "The level of participation and interest went far beyond what we expected for such a short competition," NASA tournament lab deputy director Steve Rader said in a statement.

"We enjoyed seeing the innovative approaches that were sent in given such a demanding scenario," NASA spacesuit technology engineer Kirstyn Johnson added. "Others at NASA are now thinking about ways we can leverage a crowdsourcing approach to solve some more of our spaceflight challenges."