Wardrobe malfunctions are never fun. When on Earth, they might be a nuisance or prove somewhat embarrassing. In space however, they could be a matter of life and death. Not to mention, how do you handle, uhm, laundry on the Moon?

The European Space Agency (ESA) says that the next generation of lunar explorers will be kitted with a wholly upgraded set of spacesuits. And textile tech has come quite a way since the iconic string of Apollo missions in the ‘60s and ‘70s.

Other than having to stand up to an extra-terrestrial environment characterised by high vacuum, radiation, extreme temperatures, and space dust, spacesuits are also subject to good old fashioned germs. 

As we gear up to send humans to the Moon for the first time in over 50 years, ESA is conducting a project called PExTex to assess suitable materials for future spacesuit designs.

Keeping your underwear clean, in space

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It is joined by the Austrian Space Forum (OeWF), which is leading a sub-project called BACTeRMA, trying to find ways of limiting microbial growth in the inner lining of the material. (The abbreviation stands for Biocidal Advanced Coating Technology for Reducing Microbial Activity.)

“Think about keeping your underwear clean; it’s an easy enough job on a daily basis, thanks to detergent, washing machines and dryers,” ESA materials and processes engineer Malgorzata Holynska commented. “But in habitats on the Moon or beyond, washing spacesuit interiors on a consistent basis may well not be practical.

“In addition, spacesuits will most probably be shared between different astronauts, and stored for long periods between use, potentially in favourable conditions for microorganisms. Instead we needed to find alternative solutions to avoid microbial growth.”

Collection of bacteria