The Real Reason Astronauts Are Taking Tide Into Space

Space exploration has, with few exceptions, not been an arena for commerce and branding. That's not to say that no one wants to figure out a way to turn space into a means of advertising a product. As Think Marketing Magazine notes, the idea of space billboards has been around for a few decades now, although no one has figured out a way to make it happen economically. 

Back in the 1960s, NASA started using a commercial drink powder — Tang — on its missions, as Food and Wine reports, to mask the taste of the unappetizing on-board water. Needless to say, the product's manufacturer was quick to capitalize on that connection to the space program, using it in its advertising for years afterwards.

Another consumer product may soon become a part of the space program. After decades of simply throwing away soiled astronauts' uniforms, NASA is now working with detergent manufacturer Tide to come up with a way to clean astronauts' clothes while they're in space.

It gets pretty stinky up there

Back in the early days of the space program, when mission lengths were measured in hours, there was absolutely no reason to be concerned about the smell of an astronaut's uniform. However, these days, astronauts are up there for months at a time. Further still, they're required to put in two hours of strenuous exercise per day, according to Smithsonian. Long story short, astronauts sweat and stink up their uniforms.

Unfortunately, as Voice of America News notes, there's absolutely nothing they can do about it. Space is at a premium up there, and room would have to be made to store the water for washing clothes in space, as well as the machinery to do it, and that's just not possible right now. Further still, every ounce of weight adds immeasurably to the cost of a mission, and there's no room in the budget for the weight of the machinery, and the extra water. When astronauts' uniforms get too dirty to be useful, they're simply blasted into space (there's no reason to bring them home, and getting rid of extra weight is always preferable.

the current system isn't sustainable

The current method of dealing with stinky astronaut uniforms may work for now, but its days are numbered. As we look towards Mars, we'll be measuring the length of space missions in years, not months.

Why not bring enough clothes? you may be thinking. Remember that, as mentioned above, storage space and the weight of cargo are both major factors to consider, and already astronauts bring as much as 150 pounds of clothes with them for comparatively short missions. They'd need multiple times that amount for a years-long mission to Mars, says Smithsonian, and that simply won't do.

To address the problem, Tide manufacturer Proctor & Gamble is currently collaborating with NASA to devise a way to make space  laundry more efficient. They're hoping to do so in a way that uses little to no water, while also creating a machine that will wash the clothes in space. The first tests of such a method are taking place on a mission to the International Space Station, where the impact of radiation and microgravity on detergent will be studied.