Clothes encounter: Space race to the bottom

Sergey Volkov tests new underwear on board the ISS. Image from
The International Space Station is witnessing a sweet-smelling competition. A new secret Russian discovery is hoped to make cosmonauts’ underwear last longer than that of astronauts, before it has to be changed.

Always wearing clean shirt, briefs and socks becomes a luxury when you are manning a space station. The ISS has no washing machine, so soiled underwear is simply tossed out into a trash container, which is later undocked and burnt in the atmosphere. However each additional garment costs additional thousands of dollars to deliver it into orbit, so the budget-weary space agencies are always looking for ways to make the crews change their clothes less often.

NASA at the moment beats Russia’s Roscosmos in terms of longevity of space underwear. They use thin silvered threads woven into the fabric, which kill microbes living in human sweat, reports Moskovsky Komsomolets newspaper. Thanks to this antiseptic trick, American undies and shirts last eight to nine days before a sensible space explorer wearing them would risk kissing his social life in orbit goodbye. Russians have to change their cotton underwear every five to seven days.

But now the tide may change for the cosmonaut fashionistas with brand new improved models already being tested by cosmonaut Sergey Volkov on board the ISS. The underwear also uses silver to fight microbes and odor, but uses special treatment of fabric rather than metallic threads. It keeps the garments soft and comfortable and releases silver ions over time as they are needed.

“We first tested the new underwear in the Vishnevsky Surgery Institute. After receiving approval there, we offered Sergey Volkov to try it before the June launch,”
said Aleksandr Yarov, who the firm producing clothing for the cosmonauts.

“At the moment we have space trial. Sergey took on board four sets of experimental underwear in addition to the normal things. Some of the pictures we get from the orbit show him wearing out antiseptic shirts, but so far he hasn’t given any reports. Apparently, the guys are too busy for it at the moment,” he added.

Developers of the silvery underwear are eager to meet Volkov after he returns to Earth and discuss in detail how it passed the test. They hope it will beat the American counterpart.