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    Dirty laundry in space? NASA, Tide tackle cleaning challenge

    Marcia Dunn

    CAPE CANAVERAL, FLORIDA (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 the filth and stink anymore, then junk them.

    NASA wants to change that — if not at the International Space Station (ISS), then the moon and Mars — and stop throwing away tonnes 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 Cincinnati company announced on 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 United States (US) and other countries look to establish bases on the moon and Mars.

    STS-129 mission specialist astronaut Leland Melvin exercises in the Unity module of the International Space Station. PHOTO: AP

    Rocket cargo space is tight and expensive, according to NASA, so why waste it on new outfits if their clothes could be kept looking and smelling fresh? When you figure an astronaut needs 68 kilogrammes of clothes in space per year, that quickly adds up, especially on a three-year Mars mission, said Mark Sivik, a chemist specialising in fabric and home care technology for P&G.

    There’s also the health — and ick — factors.

    Space station astronauts exercise two hours every day to counter the muscle- and bone-withering effects of weightlessness, quickly leaving their workout clothes sweaty, smelly and stiff. Their T-shirts, shorts and socks end up so foul that they run through a pair every week, according to Leland Melvin, a former NASA astronaut and NFL player.

    “After that, they’re deemed toxic,” said Melvin. “They like have a life of their own. They’re so stiff from all that sweat.”

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