No spin here: In a small (but clean) nudge to push the idea of “life in space” a little closer to humanity’s goal of actually living there, NASA is teaming with Tide to create a special laundry detergent that can handle the uniquely dirty business of keeping things fresh in long-term orbit. And starting next year, astronauts will put it to the test aboard the International Space Station.
Anticipating the day when humans in space will have to turn their attention to the same domestic tasks that keep life humming along here on Earth, NASA and Tide parent company P&G have struck a pact to “explore how to efficiently clean astronauts’ clothing in resource-constrained environments, including the Artemis Moon missions and future Mars missions,” according to P&G's announcement.
With room for supplies at a premium, ISS astronauts currently must reuse their clothing repeatedly before swapping out their spacey threads for a fresh set. And with space missions historically tending to focus on the essentials, figuring out how to stow a washing machine on board hasn’t exactly been a top NASA priority.
But maintaining clothes for long-term space use is a task whose time is definitely coming. Tide’s answer is a purpose-made, “fully degradable” laundry detergent that aims “to solve malodor, cleanliness and stain removal problems,” all developed to work within a closed system where every drop of water has to be saved and used again.
Following a cargo launch that sends the gear to the ISS next year, “teams will test the stability of cleaning ingredients under microgravity conditions and exposure to the radiation levels experienced in space,” P&G says. “…In addition, the stain removal ingredients and performance will be tested onboard the ISS through experiments with Tide To Go Wipes and Tide To Go Pens.”
That’s right: even cosmetic blemishes like stains are about to meet their match in low Earth orbit. But new developments from the partnership could also find their way back down to the surface, benefiting any Earthling who’s got laundry on their terra firma to-do list. “The study could have potential on-planet implications like innovative solutions for resource and environmental challenges on Earth,” explains Tide.
Think of it as one small step for sanitation and hygiene on a sparse frontier that’s poised to become way more crowded. As NASA looks to establish a more permanent presence on the Moon and eventually Mars, and with private companies preparing to field their first space tourism missions, quality-of-life chores like doing the laundry are gonna start to matter a whole lot more. After all, Mars may be a dirty, dusty place — but that won't stop your spiffy Martian colonist's outfit from looking as fresh as the day it first came off the rack.