Have you ever wondered how astronauts keep clean while floating in zero gravity aboard the International Space Station?
With no shower stalls or bathtubs, bathing requires some creative solutions.
Read on to learn the fascinating methods astronauts use to stay fresh and hygienic in space.
The Challenges of Showering in Zero Gravity
On Earth, we take showers for granted. But in the weightless environment of space, water doesn’t flow downwards. Astronauts have to find clever ways to bathe themselves while floating. They use specially designed rinseless soap and shampoo and rely on sponge baths to clean themselves. It’s a time-consuming process, but critical for health and hygiene.
Special Equipment Needed for Space Showers
To wash themselves in space, astronauts rely on some specially designed tools. Since water won’t fall down, astronauts use jets of air to push water toward their bodies. The space station has a water dispenser with hoses that provide pressurized streams of water.
Astronauts lather up using rinseless soap that doesn’t require water to wash off. For hair, there are shampoo capsules that clean without needing rinses. Small towels and wipes are used to dry off. While not as refreshing as Earth showers, this space bathing equipment gets the job done!
How Water Behaves Differently in Space
On Earth, we’re used to water flowing down thanks to gravity. But in the microgravity environment of space, water behaves very differently. Without gravity pulling water downwards, water forms blobs and spheres. The surface tension of water becomes very noticeable, causing it to “stick” to surfaces and spread out in odd shapes rather than falling.
Astronauts have to learn to work with these unique water physics. They use air jets and vacuum suction to move water where they want it. Understanding how water reacts in microgravity allows astronauts to bathe and use water effectively while living on the International Space Station.
The Space Shower Routine Step-By-Step
On the ISS, astronauts can’t enjoy showers like we have on Earth. But they’ve devised special techniques to keep clean in space:
- First, they fill a collapsible bag with water and attach it to the wall. The water blobs up due to microgravity.
- They undress from the waist up and use a soapy washcloth to scrub themselves clean, catching the dripping water with a vacuum tube.
- For the hair, they squeeze water from the washcloth over their heads and use no-rinse shampoo.
- For rinsing, they press the vacuum tube onto their skin to suck up the dirty water.
- Finally, they use towels attached to the walls to dry off.
It may seem like a strange routine to us Earthlings. But astronauts in space have found ways to get fresh and clean, even without hot running water.
Common Mistakes to Avoid When Showering in Space
Showering in the microgravity of space comes with a learning curve. Here are some common mistakes astronauts should avoid while bathing above Earth:
- Forgetting to close the shower curtain. Water droplets will float everywhere without containment.
- Using shampoo instead of soap. Shampoo won’t clean the skin and soap will leave hair sticky.
- Scrubbing too hard. Skin is more sensitive in space and abrasions can occur.
- Not drying off completely. Damp areas are prone to rashes and fungus growth.
- Leaving the washcloth bunched up. It needs to dry fully to prevent mold and bacteria.
- Skipping a disinfecting wipe down. Surfaces stay wet longer, spreading contaminants.
- Letting water globules loose. They can damage equipment and enter air vents.
- Forgetting to filter water. Space station water must be purified before use.
- Not cleaning the shower itself. Soap scum builds up rapidly in weightlessness.
With attentiveness and care, astronauts can enjoy the refreshing benefits of showering, even while orbiting the Earth at 17,500 mph!
The History of Showering in Space
Since the dawn of human spaceflight, finding a way to bathe in zero gravity has challenged astronauts. Here’s a quick look at the evolution of showering technology in space:
On early NASA missions like Mercury and Gemini, sponge baths were the only option. Wet cloths and limited water made for unsatisfying cleaning.
Skylab, launched in 1973, featured the first real shower in space. But it was basically a hose and curtain enclosure with suction for water.
The Space Shuttle offered the first warm water showers. But the setup was essentially a tube with a handheld shower head and no enclosure.
It wasn’t until the International Space Station that astronauts got the closest thing to a terrestrial shower. The ISS has a private stall with warm water and soap dispensers.
Future missions may use flow control nozzles, air suction, and purified water recycling to further improve space bathing.
While early space showers left something to be desired, cleanliness and hygiene remain a priority for astronauts’ health and happiness.
Fun Facts About Showering on the International Space Station
Showering in space on the ISS is a unique experience. Here are some fascinating facts about keeping clean in zero gravity:
The ISS has two hygiene compartments, each with a toilet, sink, and shower stall. The water is purified and recycled from other sources at the station.
Showers last only a few minutes and use less than 3 gallons of water. But the water pressure feels like a strong torrent thanks to the specialized NASA shower head.
Astronauts have to be careful to tightly close the shower door and curtain. Otherwise, water droplets could float around the ISS, potentially damaging sensitive equipment.
Shampoo and soap come in no-rinse varieties specially formulated for space. Towels have loops and fasteners to stay in place while drying off.
Bathing happens once a week at most to conserve limited water supplies. But astronauts use alternate hygiene methods like wet wipes in between.
The shower stall has foot restraints and handrails. Astronauts have to be careful not to bump into walls or lose balance while bathing in microgravity.
While showering in space comes with unique challenges, the ability to bathe helps astronauts feel refreshed and comfortable during long missions.
Is It Possible to Take a Shower in Space?
Astronauts on the International Space Station do not take traditional showers with running water. Instead, they use rinseless soap and shampoo and wipe themselves down with towels. The lack of gravity makes water difficult to contain.
Do They Wash Clothes in Space?
Astronauts wear their clothes until they become unwearable. Then they are disposed of. Clothes are not washed on the space station as the lack of gravity makes containing water difficult. Astronauts bring extra clothes with them.
How Do Astronauts Get Water in Space?
The primary source of water on the International Space Station is from recycling and reusing wastewater, including water from crew members’ breath and sweat. This recycled water is filtered and purified for drinking. Some water is also delivered on supply missions.
Do Astronauts Use Soap in Space?
Astronauts use rinseless soap that does not require water to rinse off. The soap contains chemicals that kill bacteria on the skin. Astronauts wipe themselves down with towels instead of rinsing with water due to the lack of gravity.
Personal hygiene like showering presents unique challenges in space due to the lack of gravity. Astronauts have adapted by using specialized rinseless soaps, recycling water, and wiping themselves down. Understanding how astronauts shower and stay clean in space provides a fascinating insight into the innovations required for living in microgravity. The simple act of bathing becomes complex when you remove the effect of Earth’s gravity. Thinking through how to shower in space reveals the hidden effects of gravity we often take for granted.