How to keep your underwear clean in space
Astronauts cannot do their laundry - and also have to share certain items of clothing with their colleagues. Austrian researchers are now investigating how microbes could be used to keep more than just underwear clean in space.
On the International Space Station ISS, there is no conventional shower and also no washing machine. Astronauts wash with wet wipes and special shampoos, clothes are worn longer than on Earth, and used laundry is disposed of. More complex garments, such as space suits and associated equipment, must be shared among the astronauts without being washed in between. This also includes the so-called "Liquid Cooling and Ventilation Garment" (LCVG).
This is worn directly on the skin under the spacesuit during spacewalks. It has cooling hoses and gas ventilation to keep astronauts at a comfortable temperature during strenuous physical work in space.
Microbes to keep clothes clean
Currently, antimicrobial materials such as silver or copper are commonly used. They reduce the proliferation of microorganisms in clothing - but can cause skin irritation with long-term use.
Researchers at the Austrian Space Forum (ÖWF) therefore applied to the ESA's "Open Space Innovation Platform" with a new idea and were recently awarded a two-year research project.
Together with the start-up Vienna Textile Lab, the ÖWF will try to keep garments clean and fresh for longer with the help of microorganisms. Metabolic products with antimicrobial, antiviral and antifungal properties from bacteria are to make textile fibers more resistant to unwanted tiny organisms.