CROWDED on to the International Space Station (ISS) with as many as 12 colleagues, Koichi Wakata’s laundry habits might not ordinarily have gone down well with his fellow astronauts. But thanks to the wonders of science, the Japanese spaceman’s revelation that he had been wearing the same pair of underpants for the past month did not cause too much of a stink. After landing back at Florida’s Kennedy Space Centre yesterday on board the shuttle Endeavour following 138 days in orbit, Mr Wakata told how an experiment designed to test the prototype pants held up well during the final stages of his 57 million-mile adventure, during which he circled the Earth 2,208 times. The anti-static, flame-resistant, odour-eating, bacteria-killing, water-absorbent smalls are manufactured to resist the rigours of long-duration space travel, and were put through their paces as part of a project aimed at ensuring that when it comes to packing for long-duration trips to the Moon and Mars, future travellers will need only minimal luggage space. “Eventually we’re going to do exploration, we’re going to go to the Moon, we’re going to go beyond the Moon someday – and little things like this will seem like really, really big things when you’re far away from Mother Earth,” said Mike Suffredini, Nasa’s space station programme manager. If Mr Wakata’s colleagues noticed he had been skimping on his laundry chores, they were polite enough not to let on – and he refrained from bringing it up in conversation. “I haven’t talked about this underwear to my crew members,” he admitted during a press conference. To titters from his fellow astronauts, he said: “I wore it for about a month and my station crew members never complained for that month, so I think the experiment went fine.” In separate comments – not part of the discussion about his cosmic briefs, but perhaps relevant – Mr Wakata, 46, revealed he had enjoyed many a good curry during his time in space, along with 27 other Japanese-themed culinary delights, including salmon rice balls.
Once back on Earth, he was looking forward to eating fresh sushi and cold noodles, and taking a hot shower, a luxury that is not possible on the ISS or the shuttle due to the micro-gravity conditions. Mr Wakata’s special clothing range was designed over several years by the Japanese space agency, Jaxa, and it is known as J-Wear. Made of cotton and polyester but with a futuristic-looking silver coating that gives it its special properties, it also includes socks, T-shirts, trousers and leggings. It made its debut in orbit last year when Takao Doi, another Japanese astronaut, tested it out for 16 days. But scientists wanted the product put through more rigorous, longer-term testing to assess its durability, and they dispatched Mr Wakata to the ISS in March with instructions to give his clothing a good workout. Other astronauts who live on the ISS for long spells usually pack their dirty laundry into unmanned Russian cargo ships, along with their rubbish, then send the craft back towards Earth, where it burns up and disappears during the fiery plunge through the atmosphere. For Mr Wakata, setting fire to his pants was not an option. His clothing was placed in special bags ready to be sent to a laboratory, where experts will examine how well it coped with the challenge. Meanwhile, eager to prove he was not in space solely as a glorified clothes-horse, Mr Wakata was keen to play up the successes of the other in-orbit tasks he performed. One had him flying through the cabin standing upright on a white sheet that performed like a surfboard. Another was to administer eye drops in space. That involved him squeezing the liquid into a tiny ball at the tip of the bottle and effectively head-butting it to get it into his eye. news from news.scotsman.com
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