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Week 4: "I'm Member of the ELS Club -- I Do My Washin' From a Dixie Cup"
After today's run on the treadmill, I decide it's time to participate in the post-exercise activities the module has to offer. We are supposed to engage in some typical hygiene tasks in order to provide more "condensate" for the experiment.

I walk over to where some instructions are hanging on the wall. One sign tells you how to do a "body wash." It reads something like this:
  1. Pour 55 ml of water into the beaker and then into one of the small dixie cups provided.
  2. Immerse a wash cloth in the water until the cloth soaks up all the water. (Believe me folks, this step takes a nanosecond.)
  3. Wipe down your face, arms, and legs with the cloth.
  4. Hang the cloth up on the rack.
After her run, Dauna Coulter wipes down with a washcloth moistened by a mere 55 ml of water. Image at right: After her run, Dauna Coulter wipes down with a washcloth moistened by a mere 55 ml of water. Image credit: NASA/MSFC

I do the best I can to follow these steps. I hope the cameras that monitor us are not equipped with sound, since I say things like "You have GOT to be kidding" the whole time I am "washing."

But let's get real here. I am supposed to wash my body with 1 1/2 inches of water in a dixie cup? Any desire I ever had to be an astronaut went up in water vapor at that moment.

I don't know, though -- maybe if I was a real astronaut, I'd get to use an entire dixie cup.

I later actually asked Keith Parrish, the ELS Test Branch Chief, why they were so chintzy with the water. As I expected, he told me that they are trying to "mimic" actual usage of water on the space station, and that the astronauts have to conserve their resources since they don't have an unlimited supply.

I know one thing. They had better keep teenagers out of the space program. My son uses about 100 gallons of water when he showers -- and that's when he’s in a hurry.

Just yesterday, my husband Steve called me at work to share a funny story (although he didn’t sound all that amused) about my son's strange behavior. It seems that Dan (my son) has a new girlfriend, and as always when he has a new girlfriend, he wants to lose a pound or two, muscle up, etc. He usually starts a running/weight lifting program at these times. The rigorous program he devises for himself always lasts exactly two weeks, because by then either he is pretty sure he has the girl's interest, or he has already lost her.

This time, though, Dan has added a new element to his weight-loss regimen. Steve heard the shower running for about 25 minutes and decided he had better check things out. He walked in, and there sat Dan on the toilet seat in the steam-filled bathroom, not only fully dressed, but wearing thick sweats, a heavy winter coat, and a wool knit cap.

Why, you may ask, was he wearing this getup on a hot, humid Alabama day, in a hot, humid bathroom with the hot shower going full blast? You guessed it -- he was sweating away the pounds.

No, my frugal husband was not at all amused. I’m sure that if Dan pulled this little trick on the space station, his crewmates would throw him out the hatch. He'd now be orbiting the Earth independently, and he sure wouldn't be worried about his weight any more.

But I digress. Back to my "shower."

Having used up my generous allotment of 55 ml of water (as opposed to Dan's 300 gallons), I hang up my wash cloth according to instructions. I'm not sure why it is necessary to hang up this almost dry cloth, but I do as I am directed.

Then I leave the module and go take a REAL shower.

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Dauna Coulter (Schafer Corporation)
NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center