They wear their underwear, workout clothing, and anything else they have until they can no longer stand the filth and stench, at which point they discard it.
NASA hopes to alter that — if not on the International Space Station, then on the moon and Mars — and stop tossing away tonnes of filthy clothing every year, dumping them in the garbage and letting them burn up in the atmosphere on rejected cargo ships. As a result, it’s collaborating with Procter & Gamble Co. to figure out how to launder astronauts’ garments in space so that they may be reused for months or even years, exactly as on Earth.
The Cincinnati-based business said on Tuesday that it will send two Tide detergent and stain-removal tests to the International Space Station later this year and next year, as part of the cosmic fight against dirty and sweaty clothing.
It’s a significant issue, especially as the United States and other countries consider establishing outposts on the moon and Mars.
According to NASA, cargo space on rockets is limited and expensive, so why waste money on new clothing when their old ones might be kept looking and smelling good? When you consider that an astronaut requires 150 pounds (68 kilograms) of clothing every year in space, it adds up rapidly, especially on a three-year Mars trip, according to Mark Sivik, a P&G scientist who specializes in fabric and home care technologies.
There are other health — and ick — considerations.
To fight the muscular and bone thinning consequences of weightlessness, astronauts on the International Space Station exercise for two hours every day, swiftly sweating, smelling, and stiffening their training clothing. According to Leland Melvin, a former NASA astronaut and NFL player, their T-shirts, shorts, and socks are so filthy that they go through a pair every week.
“After that, they’re classified as toxic,” said Melvin, the project’s spokesperson. “They like to live on their own. “All that sweat has made them stiff.”
In its first experiment, P&G will launch a space-specific detergent in December to examine how enzymes and other components respond to six months of weightlessness. Then, in May, astronauts will be given stain-removal pens and wipe to test.
At the same time, P&G is working on a washer-dryer combination that could be used on the moon or perhaps Mars and would use very little water and detergent. A gadget like this might potentially be beneficial in dry areas on Earth.
One of the numerous architectural problems is that the washing water would have to be recovered for drinking and cooking, similar to how urine and perspiration are recycled on the space station now.
Melvin explained, “The best ideas come from the most diverse teams, and how varied can you get than Tide and NASA?”