Living in a space shuttle or the International Space Station for several months at a time and in tight quarters has the potential to get a bit stressful for astronauts, especially when there is limited room to keep up with your personal hygiene. We all know that living in an unhygienic environment can spread germs and cause sickness, and believe it or not, germs can multiply faster in space meaning astronauts are prone to infections.
As one of the most extreme environments humans face, you could imagine, cleaning in space can be a serious challenge with all the items floating around the cabin of yourself and everything around you. With zero gravity, it is significantly trickier for astronauts to clean and keep up with personal hygiene as easily in space as it is on Earth. When travelling to space, each astronaut is required to bring along their own personal hygiene kit, which can include the following: a toothbrush, toothpaste, dental floss, comb razor and sometimes wet wipes! Yes – wipes are in space, too.
If you’ve ever pondered the zero gravity issue of water in space then you would be interested in how astronauts actually bathe in space. In order to stop water floating away and avoid the need to jump around trying to hit the floating water, astronauts take showers in a big cylinder that is covered with a plastic sleeve, preventing dispersal of water. They spray themselves with water from a nozzle to rinse off and then use a vacuum house attachment to suck up the water from the skin. As for their hair, a rinse less shampoo is used (sounds like a timesaver, like wipes- where have these been all our lives?!). You’re probably thinking that sounds like quite a bit more effort than us earth bound people, but living in space involves many limitations so making things as easy as it would be back at home for the astronauts is vital to mission success.
However, space is more extreme than living on earth. Take a space shuttle journey to Mars. As this flight takes approximately 7 to 8 months, depending upon the relative positions of the Earth and Mars, showering with water is unlikely a feasible option, which is why most of the astronauts have no other choice but to use wet wipes to keep up with their hygiene. The mission to Mars is a ways off, but the same principles apply to long space missions.
The use of wet wipes in a space environment and an astronaut’s life comes in very handy when water can be a challenge. Doing chores is not always a fun thing to do, whether you live on the Earth or Space. In addition to wipes for personal care, specific kind of wet wipes are useful to astronauts for cleaning the equipment, floors, walls and windows, too. They use wet wipes for cleaning their forks, spoons and eating trays as well. Using wet wipes minimises the risks of germs and bacteria spreading and causing everyone on board to become sick - as mentioned before, the risk is much higher and the consequences greater!
Believe it or not, astronauts have to do some regular cleaning chores too. The waste management system on a spacecraft or space station does not operate in isolation. It is integrated into other systems associated with the environmental control and life support. There are 4 different types of waste disposal bins on the Space Shuttle which 3 is for dry waste and 1 is for wet waste. The wet waste is anything that could smell very bad and is similar to an ordinary waste disposal bin. It is connected to a hose which drives all the bad smells away from the astronauts. As for vacuuming, this needs to be used as often as needed to vacuum clean areas that may be hard to reach as well as keeping any specks of dust out of the air filters. And sometimes, when things get loose and float away, astronauts use the vacuum to ‘catch’ any floating objects that are out of their reach.
So we bet you’re feeling a bit more appreciative for those hot showers you get in the morning and thankful for gravity! So the awesome convenience and variety of wipes are certainly recognised by those who break free from earth’s atmosphere and explore the universe. Being an astronaut and living in space is an extraordinary and somewhat exciting lifestyle, but it’s a choice made by those that make our planet a little bit more interesting and make science go beyond the parameters of the Earth.