NASA and P&G’s Agreement to Allow Astronauts to Wash Their Laundry

This month, Procter & Gamble (P&G) and NASA both have signed a contract to create space’s first detergent for astronauts to wash their clothes and underwear. The agreement got approved despite the long-standing protest of not allowing astronauts to take care of their laundry in space. 

The majority of the time, astronauts wear their ordinary garments despite equipping themselves with spacesuits whenever they work outside the International Space Station (ISS). The moment those clothes become too soiled to wear again, the only two options for cosmonauts are to either eject them with other wastes inside a capsule to burn into space or return the fabrics to Earth as junk.

Past Space Laundry Experiments and Their Conclusions

The request for permitting astronauts to take care of their laundry got voiced out to NASA many years ago. In 2011, a project by the UMPQUA Research Company got financed by NASA to create a low-power and low-water washing machine that is safe to use in space. The company’s notice on its website revealed that its research team constructed and tested the prototype by putting it in a microgravity simulation flight, which became a successful experiment. 

Aside from the washing machine proposition, NASA staff also suggested providing astronauts with clothes treated with antimicrobial agents to prevent the garments from getting too stinky. In 2009, Japanese astronaut Koichi Wakata experimented with using bacteria-resistant coverings in space. He paired the previously mentioned garments with a pair of treated underwear and wore them for about a month. Wakata reported no pungent-smelling effects after wearing the fabrics within a scheduled timeline. 

2013 Space Mission to Mars and Yajaira’s Research Study

In recent years, NASA thought of a possible way for its astronaut staff to control their laundry by exploring the probability of antimicrobial textiles. For textiles to terminate microbes, there are two possible ways to do it. The first one is to get a liquid solution consisting of ammonium compounds, metals like silver ions, and metal oxides like copper oxide. The purpose of the said mixture is to cover a whole piece of clothing in it. Meanwhile, the other method is to use antimicrobial agents and saturate them with the threads meant for sewing clothes. Both approaches got tested by NASA’s materials scientist and science officer Yajaira Sierra Sastre.

Yajaira allied with VA-based Cupron and NASA’s textile researchers to help test the experiment. During the astronauts’ four-month isolation to Mars, both groups agreed to provide them with clothes and other fabrics. MIT researcher and Yajaira’s collaborator Christopher Carr provided the garments’ post-mission DNA analysis. The reason behind the said inspection is to recognize the creatures that lived with the tested astronauts at proximity during their insulation period.

After the astronauts arrived shortly in Mars last April 2013, NASA distributed the merchandise to them. Each space crew member received four pajama tops and eight exercise shirts for them to wear during their stay on Mars. Some of the clothes got dipped in the antimicrobial solution, and the astronauts’ main goal is to put them on and answer surveys to describe how the garments feel, look like, smell, and many more. The experiment is a randomized type of research study, giving some of the antimicrobial shirts to random staffers while others would get the ordinary ones without them knowing the difference.

Several weeks after the experiment began, multiple space crew staffers noted that some of the given clothes felt heavier to wear the longer they had them on. After some time, several of them eventually moved on to wear other garments due to the previous ones slowly accumulating weeks’ worth of dead skin cells on the fabrics. 

According to the space crew members who participated in the said experiment, Yajaira’s other studies would prove useful to prevent future astronauts from continuously wearing dirty underwear and socks when going on a space mission.