Astronauts face a small problem during space missions: they can’t wash their clothes. NASA now wants to change that. The space agency will work with Procter & Gamble (P&G) to freshen the scent of astronauts’ clothes. The company will test a new detergent in space from December and wants to see whether a washing machine can also be developed in the future that works in space.
When astronauts go on a space mission, they quickly need 68 kilograms of clothes per year that they stay in space. For missions of three years, for example, that number increases strongly. The problem astronauts currently face is that they cannot reuse the clothes they wear.
Astronauts living in a space station must exercise for at least two hours a day to ensure that their muscle and bone mass does not decrease too much due to weightlessness.
“As a result, their clothes quickly start to smell of sweat. After a while, the garments even start to take on a life of their own,” said Leland Melvin, former NASA astronaut.
Whenever a piece of clothing is dirty, astronauts simply throw it away. Regular resupply missions provide space travelers with clean clothes, but that will no longer be an option for distant destinations like Mars.
In the past, NASA already thought about developing antibacterial clothes that could be worn for longer, but that would not be an efficient solution in the long term. P&G also has to take into account the conditions in the space.
For example, there is limited access to water, and all kinds of liquids, including urine and sweat, are recycled into usable water. Furthermore, the ingredients in the detergents must be extremely safe.
“Our Tide brand has developed a fully biodegradable laundry detergent designed specifically for space use,” announced P&G. The detergent would eliminate bad odors and remove stains. The company will set up further experiments on the International Space Station (ISS) in 2022 to further test the detergent.
In addition, P&G wants to start developing a combined washing machine and dryer, which requires only small amounts of water and detergent. Such a machine would be suitable for distant space missions to the moon or to Mars in the future.