How exactly do you do laundry in space?
Well, apparently you don’t. According, to a Popular Mechanics interview with University of Rhode Island design professor Karl Aspelund clothing is simply thrown away on the Space Station. (I guess that is one solution to preventing piles of laundry.) The biggest reason behind this is to conserve limited resources on space missions, such as water.
Laundry disposal on a short-term mission is one thing, but Professor Aspelund is tasking himself with the complex problem of how to do laundry in space on a 20 year mission or on a Mars base. Disposing decades worth of clothing simply isn’t practical or space-environment-friendly. Somehow, someway, the chore of intergalactic laundry needs to be conquered.
Aspelund points out that space environmental issues parallel those that we have on our own planet. The professor states “What it comes down to are these very important questions of sustainability, using natural resources, recycling, use of energy and water, controlling pollutants.” that will ultimately help us survive on Earth. Common day laundry practices are not eco-friendly and leave a deep environmental footprint over a lifetime. Solving laundry problems in outer space may help us resolve the laundry problems on Earth.
The professor advocates a greater focus on recycling and repurposing goods—-including clothing. He also envisions a need to rethink the manufacturing process of textiles. The very manufacturing of clothing must be miniaturized to fit equipment into confined space environments.
But his most bold speculations for the future solution to space laundry may be found in re-thinking our need for clothing. In his words:
“Maybe we need to rethink what it means to be covered or clothed. Are we coated somehow, instead of wearing pieces of fabric? That could get really weird, but maybe that’s what needs to happen if the civilization is going to move off the planet. We’ve been harvesting, spinning, weaving, cutting, and sewing for tens of thousands of years. Are we just going to stop? That seems fairly unlikely, but maybe we have to. Maybe it’s time for something else.“
Read more of this fascinating article about Space Laundry at Popular Mechanics.