Science Questions

How do people shower in the space station?

Sun, 17th May 2015

Listen Now    Download as mp3 from the show Can astronauts shower in space?

Question

Mark asked:

How do people shower in the space station?

Answer

We put Mark's question to Space Boffin Richard Hollingham... A shower in use

Chris - There's a phone call here from Mark. Hello, Mark.

Mark - Hello, Chris. Hello, Kat.

Kat - Hello.

Mark - How are you doing? Alright?

Kat - Yeah, what have you got for us?

Mark - Right, itís for the zero gravity man.

Richard - I've never been described as that before.

Chris - Richard, do you have no gravity?

Richard - That would be so cool.

Mark - Very quickly, I'm always interested in general running of life on a space station, working in a zero gravity environment. But obviously, they have to work quite hard and I imagine at the end of the day, they would need to clean themselves. Do they have a shower? I can't envisage a bath full of water, flopping about. So, how do they do that?

Richard - Imagine you're living for 6 months in an area thatís Ė I donít know - not much, but in total the area is about the size of a football pitch but itís lots of individual capsules with 6 other people with no shower because there is no shower in the international space station! They clean themselves with cloths, a bit like dish clothes. In fact, they haveÖ

Kat - Like wet wipes kind of thing.

Richard - Sort of like wet wipes.

Kat - This is what I do at music festivals. You kind of just wipe down with a wet wipe.

Richard - Yeah, but for 6 months? They have a ration of these and they have to exercise every day so they are sweating a lot. This sweat does not go to waste on the International Space Station. So, they recycle urine into drinking water.

Kat - That sounds terrible.

Richard - They also recycle sweat into drinking water in the International Space Station. Actually, because you're in this microgravity environment, because effectively, there is no gravity, I was talking to Chris Hatfield, the Canadian astronaut about this and he said, there's very awkward moments that heís exercising, raising weights, so sweat coming off him and other astronauts get splatted by his sweat. So, you're walking down the corridor, you got this big globule of someone elseís sweat but yes, itís not pleasant. So, we talked to some of the space tourists. They're a bit more open about what itís actually like. Apparently, the toilet on the space station is horrible, really horrible. The atmosphere on the space stationÖ

Kat - You never see any of this on Star Trek or anything, do you?

Richard - You donít. The atmosphereÖ

Chris - Look what Spock found in the Enterprise toilet, Captainís logÖ

Richard - Itís not. Menís locker room, thatís what one space tourist described it as, Smelling like a menís locker room because they donít shower. Skylab which was the 1970s space station, around 1974, í75, something like that, that did have a shower. So, if you look back images of people in space, you often see astronauts in the sort of bag, almost like a sleeping bag they sort of assemble around with a shower hose. So, they did have a shower on a 1970s space station but not right now Ė 6 people in orbit, no shower.

Kat - That will smell like a music festival very quickly.

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