NASA wants to wash clothes in space

How do astronauts wash clothes in space? They didn't do it at all. The astronauts put on their underwear, tracksuits, and whatnot until they couldn't stand the dirt and smell anymore, then threw them away.


UMMATIMES - The dirty clothes are no small matter, especially since the United States (USA) and other countries want to build bases on the moon and Mars. Rocket cargo space is cramped and expensive, so why waste it on new clothes when their clothes can still look and smell fresh by cleaning them in space.

NASA wants to change that and stop dumping tons of dirty clothes every year, putting them in the trash to burn in the atmosphere aboard discarded cargo ships. In collaboration with Procter & Gamble Co. (P&G), NASA is figuring out the best way to clean astronaut suits in space so they can be reused for months or even years, just like on Earth.

The Cincinnati company announced Tuesday that it will send a pair of Tide detergent and stain removal experiments to the space station later this year and next.

Mark Sivik, a chemist who specializes in fabric technology and home care for P&G, says astronauts need 68 kilograms of clothing in space per year, which adds up quickly, especially on the three-year Mars mission. There are also health factors that affect this new program.

Space station astronauts exercise two hours every day to counter the muscle and bone debilitating effects of weightlessness. The conditions quickly made their workout clothes sweaty, smelly, and stiff.

Former NASA astronaut and NFL player Leland Melvin says astronauts' t-shirts, shorts and socks get so dirty that they wear a pair every week. "After that, they are considered toxic. They seem to have a life of their own. They are very stiff because of all the sweat," said Melvin, who served as a spokesman for the project.

While NASA and other space station partners have been looking for special antimicrobial clothing to prolong wear, it's not a long-term solution. In its initial trial, P&G will ship a detergent made specifically for space in December.

The delivery will allow scientists to see how enzymes and other ingredients react to six months of weightlessness. Then next May, stain-removing wipes will be sent for astronauts to test.

At the same time, P&G is developing a washer-dryer combination that can operate on the moon or even Mars, using less water and detergent. Such machines have also proved useful in dry areas of the Earth.

One of the many design challenges is the problem of washing water needing to be taken back for drinking and cooking. The concept is like the urine and sweat currently being recycled on the space station.