Dirty underwear can be a problem for colonists on the Moon

The European Space Agency has expressed interest in a study aimed at overcoming the problem of the stench that accumulates in astronauts’ underwear. The agency notes in its press release that it pays special attention to the project, which is being conducted by the Austrian Space Forum. This project aims to keep the inside of the spacesuits clean for future Artemis missions, during which European and American astronauts are planned to return to the Moon — this will be the first such case in the last half century.

Spacesuits can get very dirty during months-long expeditions to the Moon and Mars. Photo: Unsplash

As part of a broader project called “Planetary Exploration Textiles” (PExTEx), the Austrian Space Forum took responsibility for the implementation of the project “Biocidal Advanced Coating Technology for Reducing Microbial Activity” (BACTeRMA). The main goal of this project is to ensure hygienic conditions in extreme space conditions, in particular, to keep spacesuits clean.

ESA engineer Malgorzata Holynska compares this task to keeping underwear clean on Earth, where there is access to washing machines and dryers. However, in the conditions of living on the Moon or in a spacecraft, regular washing of spacesuits turns out to be impractical. The process of washing the suit is quite complicated. At the same time, the resulting dirtiness can be a problem, especially when several astronauts use the spacesuit together.

Currently, antimicrobial materials such as silver and copper are used in the design of spacesuits. But the ESA points to the possibility of irritation of the astronauts’ skin from their use, the transfer of infections, as well as the characteristic tarnishing of spacesuits with regular use.

An astronaut prepares to put on a spacesuit in zero gravity before going into outer space. Photo: ESA

To solve this problem, scientists are working on the BACTeRMA project. They are investigating chemical compounds known as secondary metabolites that produce microbes to protect themselves. These compounds have various properties, in particular, some of them have antibiotic properties.

Austrian scientists are working with the BACTeRMA team together with Vienna Textile Lab to create a bacteriographic collection of biocidal materials. They test them for radiation, moon dust and simulated human sweat to determine their effectiveness in space conditions. 

At the moment, a prototype of biocidal textiles is being tested in a spacesuit simulator. In the near future, it may be used to simulate missions on Mars planned for next year.

The problems of space hygiene are not new. However, this new approach may help keep spacesuits fresh during the Artemis mission, when astronauts will encounter the space climate for many months. It is important to keep in mind that ensuring proper hygienic conditions is critical for the successful completion of future space missions.

Earlier we talked about the history of spacesuits.

According to ESA

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