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There's No Laundry in Space, So NASA is Trying to Make Clothes That Don't Get Smelly

Astronauts got a shipment of fresh, hopefully odor-resistant gym clothes

smithsonian.com

There is no washer or dryer on board the International Space Station; no cosmic laundromat waiting to take astronauts' quarters each Saturday morning. So when astronauts are done wearing their clothes, they throw them out. They pack their soiled undies into an old spaceship and shoot it into the Earth's atmosphere where it burns up into dust. Astronauts aboard the ISS have hefty closets to match this rockstar way of living: a crew of six goes through 900 pounds of clothing each year.

Before the dirty laundry can be ejected into space, it has a tendency to pile up. According to NASA, all of these dirty garments can cause storage and weight problems, and lint from cotton fibres can clog filters. Then, there's the smell. 

A new NASA study is looking to reduce the amount of clothing waste by extending the amount of time astronauts' garments can be worn. As part of the study, ISS crew members are being provided with exercise clothing that's been treated with an antimicrobial compound, or made with antimicrobial yarn. 

Yesterday, a privately operated resupply mission took off from the Virginia coast carrying resupply materials, including the new clothes. As per NASA, astronauts will wear the clothes during their daily two and a half hour exercise regimen for a total of 15 days. 

 The exercise clothing are hung up to dry for up to 4 hours and then stored in flame-resistant bags. A questionnaire is taken daily soon after exercise to document perception of the exercise clothing.

The antimicrobial yarn and coating NASA is testing are both commercially available, so if the research checks out and the clothes really don't smell it probably won't be long before "astronaut approved" workout gear starts showing up in stores.

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About Shannon Palus

Shannon Palus is a science writer, and a researcher for Popular Science. Her work has appeared in Discover, Slate, Ars Technica, and elsewhere. She is based in Philadelphia.

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