NASA have moved at last to tackle the problem of dirty astronauts by commissioning a microwave with air-jets to clean underwear in space.
There are no washing machines on the International Space Station so grime-encrusted nauts will wear underwear for 3-4 days and other items of clothing for months, before disposing of the dirty laundry by hurling it into the atmosphere to burn up in old Progress cargo capsules, attempting to wash it in a plastic bag or even - yuck - using it to grow plants in.
The costs of sending anything into space - between $5,000 and $10,000 per 500g - limits the amount of clean knickers that can be sent up in the first place.
NASA have selected small disinfectant business UMPQUA to make a prototype of a low-water, low-power washing machine that could enable the laundry to be done 250 miles above the earth's surface - or much further afield, on deep space craft or in bases on the Moon or Mars. The new NASA research contract is to produce:
Flight Hardware for long duration human missions beyond low Earth orbit ... The system is suitable for use in any long term space mission where resupply logistics preclude routine delivery of fresh crew clothing and removal of disposable clothing articles. While the proposed laundry system is microgravity compatible, the system will be completely functional in reduced gravity environments.
The machine proposed by Oregon-based company would use jets of vapour, air and microwave rays to clean clothes. The proposal indicate that it achieves "greatly enhanced softness" over the traditional low-water vacuum pressing methods.
The laundry microwaves could be useful on Earth too the manufacturers suggest, saying they'd work well in isolated military outposts, research stations and on ships.
UMPQUA also have a second potential contract with NASA - for an efficient poo-burner or a Highly Efficient Fecal Waste Incinerator. ®