With the astronaut’s working and daily routines aboard the International Space Station (ISS), some things seem quite different from what we know or experience on Earth. There are many things we think are the norm, and we often take them for granted!
Imagine the happiness you experience when you experience a bath at the end of a long day or get some recreation from getting into a pull on a hot day – simple joys! But the environment is completely different in space. The absence of gravity upends expectations, leading to defiance of behavior from soapsuds and water. So, do astronauts take showers in space, and how do they manage personal hygiene in that setting?
Do Astronauts Take Showers in Space?
Yes, they do! However, the process is quite different from taking a normal shower due to the unique surroundings of microgravity on the ISS and other space missions. In fact, in the early days of space travel, for example, in the 1960s, during the Mercury and Gemini missions, astronauts had very limited options for maintaining personal hygiene. They had capsules used for the missions that were quite small and had limited water supplies. So, they do work with minimal hygiene routines.
In the missions, they took sponge baths using a small amount of water and damp towels. The lack of resources and space meant they couldn’t change their clothes, making them wear the same clothes when they were in space. Imagine this combined with close quarters and physical exertion; this often meant they returned to Earth with an odor.
If there’s no gravity, obviously – traditional showers are impractical. Instead of traditional water-based showers, they use a system with no-rinse shampoos, waterless body wipes, and other specialized personal hygiene products. The products are designed to be effective in the microgravity environment where water doesn’t behave similarly to the way it works on Earth. Water droplets can’t drain away or fall off the body in the weightless conditions of space.
Astronauts take showers in space using a pouch of water and a towel to wet their skin, then use a cleaning solution or soap to wash, and lastly, another towel to wipe off any left residue. The meticulous drying process is important even though only a minimal amount of water is used. Each item used must be secured nicely to prevent them from floating away. They use Velcro to attach objects, which needs careful attention, too. The used wipes and towels are then stored or discarded until they can be properly disposed of.
How Astronauts Wash Their Hair in Space
You must be wondering – hair care, in particular, must present an interesting challenge! Yes! On Earth, gravity allows hair to remain flat against the scalp, allowing easy hair products and water application. But, in the weightlessness of space, hair freely floats, making normal washing simply impossible. They have to adapt hair routines that favor these circumstances.
To do that, astronauts use a shampoo that doesn’t require water to rinse. To apply this dry shampoo, they squeeze a bit into the hair with just a squirt of water on the scalp. Then, use their fingers or a washcloth to comb the ends of the hair. While a bit challenging with longer hair, this process remains manageable with the careful use of a comb and fingers for control.
Oral Hygiene in Microgravity
We all brush our teeth on Earth, right? Well, again, it’s different in space. As mentioned earlier, nothing stays in place. So imagine trying to brush your teeth in such a place – like we’re used to! Astronauts use super cool toothbrushes specially designed to travel in space. They have features that prevent gunk and toothpaste from floating around with the help sort of a suction system. The Velcro we talked about uses that to stick the brush to the surface so it doesn’t flow away.
The toothpaste is different, too – it’s more of a gel, thick enough to stay on the toothbrush. Otherwise, regular toothpaste would float off – you don’t want to chase toothpaste in the spaceship! With spitting, you have to be careful. They may use a towel to spit into or a controlled sink. You guessed it, spit cannot behave as it does on Earth. They use a tad bit to wet the toothbrush before putting the toothpaste. They also make use of the mouthwash to keep everything extra clean.
That’s the not-so-simple journey of the question: Do astronauts take showers in space? Right now, the techniques and tricks they use on the ISS keep things clean while dealing with microgravity. Experts are always looking for ways to improve space hygiene.
But what does the future look like? The whole showering game might change. Scientists are considering designing showers that work in space, making it easy and clean. Even though it might be challenging, the fact that there are plans and talks towards better habitats for our astronauts is a win.