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I doubt that there are many of us who, when considering how our astronauts live during missions, don’t immediately think of bodily functions, such as ‘going to the toilet’. Although I’ve wondered briefly how these brave souls fulfil their needs, the subject’s not something I’ve properly investigated - and I’d never even considered things such as body odour or the need to change underwear, until I read a press release this morning… Headed: ‘Tide to design first laundry detergent for space, to begin stain removal testing on International Space Station in 2022’, it talks about how Procter & Gamble is partnering with NASA to explore how to efficiently clean astronauts' clothing in resource-constrained environments and in varying gravities. Importantly, the study could have potential on-planet implications such as innovative solutions for resource and environmental challenges on Earth.
Astronauts on the ISS wear clothing several times before changing it when replacements are delivered. Currently, 160lbs of clothing per crew member per year is launched to ISS but with limited cargo capacity and the difficulties planned deep space missions will pose, an alternative needs to be found. Major challenges for off-Earth laundering include ingredient safety and compatibility with NASA life support systems, as well as the limited amount of water available per wash-load and the requirement that the wash water be purified back to drinking-quality water. Tide has developed a fully degradable detergent, specifically designed for use in space, to solve malodour, cleanliness and stain removal problems for washable items used during deep space missions, while being suitable for use in a close-loop water system.
Onboard a 2022 cargo launch to the ISS, ‘Mission PGTide’ (P&G Telescience Investigation of Detergent Experiments) teams, in partnership with the ISS US National Laboratory and SEOPS, will test the stability of cleaning ingredients under microgravity conditions and exposure to the radiation levels experienced in space. The researchers may also study how a combined washing and drying unit could potentially be integrated into planetary habitats with low-gravity surface conditions. Future missions to and from Mars expect to span multiple years, and these long-duration flights will require laundry solutions designed for extreme space-based environments and varying gravity conditions.
Although the press release wasn’t specific about why the wash water needs to be returned to drinking-quality, I’m now mulling over the possibility of having to drink water that’s been used to wash underwear which has been worn for, potentially, several days…
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24th June 2021