NASA Tackles Odd Space Problem: Doing the Laundry

Tide is sending up special detergent as a test
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Jun 22, 2021 11:13 AM CDT
NASA's Next Mission: Doing Laundry in Space
In this 2009 photo made available by NASA, astronaut Leland Melvin exercises in the Unity module of the International Space Station.   (NASA via AP)

How do astronauts do laundry in space? They don't. They wear their underwear, gym clothes, and everything else until they can't take it anymore, then junk them, per the AP. NASA wants to change that—if not at the International Space Station, then the moon and Mars—and stop throwing away tons of dirty clothes every year, stuffing them in the trash to burn up in the atmosphere aboard discarded cargo ships. So it's teamed up with Procter & Gamble Co. to figure out how best to clean astronauts' clothes in space so they can be reused for months or even years, just like on Earth. The 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, all part of the galactic battle against soiled and sweaty clothes.

It's no small problem, especially as the US and other countries look to establish bases on the moon and Mars. When you figure an astronaut needs 150 pounds of clothes in space per year, that quickly adds up, especially on a three-year Mars mission, said Mark Sivik, a chemist at P&G. In its initial experiment, P&G will send up detergent custom-made for space in December so scientists can see how the enzymes and other ingredients react to six months of weightlessness. Then next May, stain-removal pens and wipes will be delivered for testing by astronauts. One of the many challenges: The laundry water would need to be reclaimed for drinking and cooking, just like urine and sweat are currently recycled aboard the space station.

(More NASA stories.)

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