To Infinity and Beyond – Space Laundry

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.

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A Mother Preserves Items “Lost” in The Wash

A really sweet story is circulating the web about laundry. Grab a tissue.

Last May “justgrant2009” got married. This week he shared his story on about the best gift that he ever received.

At his wedding rehearsal dinner, his mom and dad stood up to deliver a thank you speech. His mother had a big gift bag at her side. She then proceeded to tell gathered guests that while he was growing up — and occasionally through college— she had collected items from Grant’s laundry.

Grant knew growing up that his mother had strict rules about cleaning out his pockets before leaving them to be laundered. Anything she found was kept for good in a glass jar high atop a shelf in the laundry room. The glass jar was forbidden.

When Grant heard his mother’s speech he realized that he was finally getting back all those little treasures from years past. His eyes swelled. As he reached into the bag, he was surprised to find that the famous glass jar of lost items had been turned into a table lamp for a wedding gift.

Here are some of the items from Grant’s laundry room “lost and found” glass jar lamp:

“It started off with mostly sticks, rocks, and marbles. But over time it ended up having all sorts of items ranging from Pogs, a Gameboy game (Super Mario Land), a Magic School Bus McDonald’s toy, yo-yos, and Laser Quest scorecards. There are also plenty of sticks, springs, rubber-bands, and twist-ties because I went through a phase where I remember telling my parents I was going to build a robot with just those items. I will admit that there are a few items in there from my early 20s too, as like any lazy college student, I let my mom wash my clothes while staying at home from college between semesters. And clearly, my mom was still collecting my things.”

It seems that Grant’s mom still has partly maintained her laundry rule of not returning items left in laundry pockets. In a bemused tone Grant mentions that his mother has sealed the contents within the lamp!

What an incredible gift from mother to son at a remarkable milestone in his life. Our laundry is proof of our adventures in this world….dirt and all.

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