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Space Hygiene

Season 1Episode 144May 15, 2020

Elisca Hicks and Mike Berrill, crew systems operations instructors, answer top questions about space hygiene that NASA receives and help us understand how astronauts are trained to shower, shave, and go to the bathroom in space. HWHAP Episode 144.

Space Hygiene

Space Hygiene

If you’re fascinated by the idea of humans traveling through space and curious about how that all works, you’ve come to the right place.

“Houston We Have a Podcast” is the official podcast of the NASA Johnson Space Center from Houston, Texas, home for NASA’s astronauts and Mission Control Center. Listen to the brightest minds of America’s space agency – astronauts, engineers, scientists and program leaders – discuss exciting topics in engineering, science and technology, sharing their personal stories and expertise on every aspect of human spaceflight. Learn more about how the work being done will help send humans forward to the Moon and on to Mars in the Artemis program.

On Episode 144, Elisca Hicks and Mike Berrill, crew systems operations instructors, answer top questions about space hygiene that NASA receives and help us understand how astronauts are trained to shower, shave, and go to the bathroom in space. This episode was recorded on February 12, 2020.

Houston, we have a podcast


Gary Jordan (Host): Houston, we have a podcast. Welcome to the official podcast of the NASA Johnson Space Center, Episode 144, “Space Hygiene,” I’m Gary Jordan and I’ll be your host today. On this podcast we bring in the experts, scientists, engineers, astronauts, all to let you know what’s going on in the world of human spaceflight. One of the top questions, if not, the top question, that NASA receives from kids and really from people around the world is. How do you go to the bathroom in space? We get questions like this all the time. Other popular ones are. How do you eat? How do you talk to your family? How do you sleep? I think we get these questions so often, because they’re so relatable, things we do in our own lives every day. So, in space, when it comes to hygiene, you can probably guess that it’s something that the crew is prepared to do and has trained on how to do these things and use these systems on Earth before they even get to space. And, there’s a lot to it. Because a lot of what you and I take for granted, becomes a whole lot harder in space; showering, shaving, doing laundry. Is there even laundry? Here to talk about space hygiene are the very people that train astronauts on how to take care of themselves in space. On today’s episode is Elisca Hicks and Mike Berrill. They’re Crew Systems Instructors. Elisca with Leidos and Mike with KBR, based here at NASA’s Johnson Space Center. And, they’re here to answer some of the most popular questions about living in space. So here we go. Going to the bathroom in space and overall space hygiene with Elisca Hicks and Mike Berrill. Enjoy.

[ Music]

Host: Elisca and Mike, thank you so much for coming on Houston We Have a Podcast.

Elisca Hicks: Thank you, super excited.

Mike Berrill: Thank you for having us.

Host: Yes. This is such an interesting topic, space hygiene. I was telling — Elisca I was telling you a little bit before. When I was thinking about how to ask you these questions, I thought about two things. I thought, what do I know about the International Space Station and all the systems and what it takes to be an astronaut? And, then I swept around my own home and I was thinking about, you know, brushing my teeth, you know, washing my hair, flossing, these weird things that I know I do in my home, what is that like in space? And, so I hope we can all jam this, jam this together.

Elisca Hicks: Yeah. Definitely things that you take for granted and you don’t really think about how they’re impacted in spaceflight.

Mike Berrill: Definitely.

Host: So, you’re kind of like the space hygiene experts here at Johnson Space Center. How did you get started? Elisca, we’ll start with you. How’d you get started and how’d you end up in space hygiene?

Elisca Hicks: Wow. OK. So quickly, I actually went to school to be a teacher, a physics teacher. And, moved around quite a bit, actually worked at Space Center Houston in their education department. Then I got picked up by the Space Medicine Group here at Johnson Space Center doing training and coordinating lots of medical students and flight surgeons in the Army, Navy, and Air Force to come for different training events. And, then I got picked up by Crew Systems here just about two years ago. And, I’m loving it.

Host: So, your strong expertise is actually in your ability to teach people, more so maybe than the technical things.

Elisca Hicks: Actually, that is exactly what happened.

Host: Yeah.

Elisca Hicks: So as an instructor here at JSC, one of the qualifications is typically either that you are, have an education degree or some kind of other speaking type of careers plus have some science background as well. So, yeah.

Host: That’s interesting. See I would’ve — my first thought is that it would be flip flopped, that you would need the technical expertise and ah you’re pretty good at talking to people —

Elisca Hicks: Yeah.

Host: — So, we’ll make you an instructor. But, it’s actually, that is really critical for training people, is to have a really strong foundation in talking to people.

Elisca Hicks: Right. So, one of the things that, I think, folks notice is that engineers like to go into a whole lot of detail. And, as an instructor, you have to take all that information and what is it exactly that a crew member really needs to know? And, so we kind of have an ability to work together and come up with a lesson plan and things that we want to tell the crew for sure.

Host: Now Mike, are you flip flopped, or are you?

Mike Berrill: I’m a little bit different.

Host: Yeah. OK.

Mike Berrill: So, I actually started out in the military. I was in the US Navy in the aviation community. Working on planes, turning wrenches, if you will. After my first tour, I got out of the military and went into school and got my mechanical engineering degree. So, I am that technical side of things.

Host: Yeah.

Mike Berrill: I was lucky enough to get picked up here at JSC after graduating and I been in Crew Systems ever since.

Host: Wow. OK. So, what do you take, what do you learn from Elisca about the training, the people side of things?

Mike Berrill: Well, she’s absolutely correct. You know, you can be super smart from a technical engineering standpoint. But, if you can’t teach the information to someone, you’re not going to be effective. So, we, especially in Crew Systems, we really have to find the best of both worlds, you know, learning the technical knowledge and then being able to teach it to your students, in this case, crew members. Right? So.

Host: Let’s dive into that. What’s Crew Systems? What is this thing that you’re teaching?

Mike Berrill: Perfect. Yeah. So, we deal with a lot of different things, primarily hygiene and habitability stuff. Historically, we also do a little bit of crew escape, so a lot of the new stuff coming along for us as our Commercial Crew Programs. So, we’re going to teach crew members how to do, you know, water survival and crew escape stuff, as well. But, you know, we’re more than just instructors, as well. We actually do monitor real time operations over in Mission Control. So, all the systems we’re going to talk about today we actually monitor real time. If there’s any issues, we’ll help with those types of problems, as well.

Host: I find that a lot from a lot of the guests, is there’s — there’s not, there’s very few, if any, people that just wear one single hat. It’s like I teach just the bathroom system and that’s it. No, you’re wearing all kinds of hats.

Mike Berrill: Very flexible.

Elisca Hicks: Yep.

Host: Yeah. And, it seems like you have to. You have to have that strong foundation.

Elisca Hicks: Yes.

Host: So, is there, are you doing the same thing Elisca? Are you teaching all, basically these same systems?

Elisca Hicks: Yes. So, I’m more on the habitability side of the Crew Systems. So how to eat, how to use the PWD, the Portable Water Dispenser, how to use the food warmer? We have, you know, items that are like the refrigerator onboard, they’re called the [Microgravity Experiment Research Locker Incubator] MERLIN currently right now. So, all of that plus just day to day type of living and what equipment and things do you have available to make life a little easier for you on space station.

Host: Perfect.

Elisca Hicks: But, we also again, monitor real time stuff. So, if we have items such as an issue with our crew quarters or with our Portable Water Dispenser, we’re there as the subject matter experts as well, to help the people who actually sit in the front room’s in mission control.

Host: So, you’re alluding to a lot of these systems that we’re going to be talking about today.

Elisca Hicks: Yes.

Host: The Portable Water System.

Mike Berrill: Right.

Host: I know we’re going to talk about the bathroom at some point.

Mike Berrill: We’re definitely going to talk about the bathroom.

Elisca Hicks: Yeah.

Host: Yeah, yeah.

Elisca Hicks: We’re going to talk about the bathroom.

Host: Yeah. So, these are, these are very important, you say habitability, that’s the word you use.

Elisca Hicks: Yeah.

Host: It’s just living in space.

Elisca Hicks: Yeah.

Mike Berrill: Right.

Elisca Hicks: You got it.

Host: So, what am I missing here? We got water, we got the bathroom. What other things? Maybe the oxygen generation, I don’t know what we’re talking about here.

Elisca Hicks: That’s a whole another system.

Host: That’s a whole another system?

Elisca Hicks: The Environmental Control Life Support System Group.

Host: Got it.

Elisca Hicks: But, we do interface with those systems because, as you know, we recycle all of our urine and wastewater and everything into drinking water.

Mike Berrill:Absolutely.

Elisca Hicks: So, yeah, so there’s, I’ll let Mike definitely talk about that part. But, you know, the pee goes in and then the ecosystem does its thing and then, later on.

Mike Berrill: Right.

Elisca Hicks: What’s the saying? Today’s coffee is tomorrow’s coffee — something like that.

Mike Berrill: Yeah. Yesterday’s coffee is today’s coffee, exactly. [Laughter]

Host: You’re basically drinking the same coffee over and over.

Elisca Hicks: Yeah. [Laughter]

Mike Berrill: Absolutely.

Host: OK. All right. So, let’s take me through a class. Let’s say you’re teaching me how to live in space. What are some of the things you’re going over?

Mike Berrill: Right. So, one of the big things, and you kind of alluded to it in your intro about how you went through your house and kind of, how did they, how do these things happen in space? Right? A lot of the things we take for granted here on the ground use gravity. Right? So, we put ourselves in that microgravity situation and everything gets turned upside down if you will. Right? Seemingly easy tasks here on the ground become a little bit more challenging to the point to where things could get messy. So, a lot of, a lot of our, you know, classes go into the detail of here’s the system and then also, hey here’s how they actually do these things or use these things up in orbit, when it can become quite challenging. And, you know, part of my job is actually how to potty train astronauts. So that’s pretty fun.

Host: How does that even work? Where do you even start? They come into a building I guess, next to a system. What’s bathroom training like?

Mike Berrill: Right. Exactly. Yeah, so we actually interface out of a couple different buildings here at JSC.

Host: OK.

Mike Berrill: The primary one would be over in building 9, I like to call it the big space playground, where we’ve got all the mock ups and stuff like that. And, so a lot of our training will happen over there. Some of the galley stuff will happen over in building 5 so, where the simulators and the part task trainers are over there. And, then on the crew escaped side we actually get to have the fun, we go over to the Neutral Buoyancy Lab and we, you know, water survival and stuff. So, we get to go interface over there from time to time, as well.

Host: OK. You know what’d be a bad day, is training for both, training how to use the bathroom and then you have a bad day.

Mike Berrill: Yeah. Exactly.

Host: Yeah. My gosh. That’s the worst. OK. So, let’s talk about, just to add some context to what this means, because I’m imagine you guys — I’m sure everyone’s trying to imagine their own bathroom and how that works. It’s just, the stuff goes in, you flush, and it goes bye, bye. What are the considerations when you’re going to the bathroom in space?

Mike Berrill: Right. So, zero gravity, you know, you don’t have gravity pulling your waste away from you. So that’s the biggest challenge starting out. So, the toilets up in orbit they actually use airflow as the gravity equivalent. So, as you’re urinating or, you know, pooing in space, right, we use airflow to help pull that waste away from you. So, it’s kind of the thing. But, then again, you also have the challenge that you’re in that microgravity situation. So, you kind of have to stabilize yourself where on the ground you can just kind of sit down or stand up next to it and it all works. It becomes exponentially more challenging when you only have two hands and you have to position yourself, make sure you’re aiming correctly and everything like that. So, it becomes a little bit challenging.

Host: Yeah.

Elisca Hicks: I’ll add to that. The one thing that folks may not realize is that you can’t do both urination and pooping in the same toilet.

Mike Berrill: Right.

Host: Oh, that’s interesting.

Elisca Hicks: I’ll let Mike explain that, because that’s what he meant by you only have two hands, you’re trying to position yourself.

Mike Berrill: Definitely, so.

Elisca Hicks: And, everything, so, Mike can explain.

Mike Berrill: Thank you for that. So yeah, your urine actually goes down what we call a urine receptacle on our system. Where it’s basically just a hose that has that suction going through it. So, you would urinate into that. But we, and that’s going to tie into our regenerative [Environmental Control and Life Support System] ECLSS where we reprocess that urine into water again. For the solid waste or, you know, pooing side of things, we kind of just have a can that has airflow going through it as well. And, then we just kind of collect that waste into baggies and then put it into this disposable can, we then seal it up nicely because you don’t want those smells going anywhere.

Host: Yeah. So, it’s almost like whenever you’re going to the bathroom, one of the first things you have to think about, which is not something you have to think about on Earth, is almost like I got to turn the vacuum on first. I got to turn on the air first —

Mike Berrill: Absolutely.

Host: — Before I use the bathroom.

Elisca Hicks: Yes.

Mike Berrill: Absolutely. We do have, you know, quite a few steps and we actually have some cue cards up there for crew members to kind of jog their memory. But, it’s not as simple as just going in there and starting to use the system. They have to turn it on, make sure it’s working properly before they can start using it.

Host: Oh, so it’s a check and verify even before.

Elisca Hicks: Don’t wait till the last minute.

Host: Yeah.

Mike Berrill: You’ve got to give yourself a little bit of time, none of those last minute, “ah I got to go,” situations.

Host: Oh, so that’s part of going to the bathroom in space is almost like planning your bowel movements, you have to give yourself some time —

Mike Berrill: Oh absolutely.

Host: To go through, like you said, you have to turn on the fan, you have to go through the check list, you have to verify that it’s working.

Mike Berrill: Right.

Host: So, you’re right, you can’t just like, “oh man I got to go.” That’s something that you really have to think about.

Mike Berrill: Absolutely. Especially since the crew member’s time is so jam packed. Their days are scheduled for them to the minute kind of thing, you know.

Host: Yeah.

Mike Berrill: So, they got to fit it in between activities in orbit. So, you know, they’ve got to.

Elisca Hicks: There’s no potty breaks unfortunately.

Mike Berrill: You got to plan it out pretty well.

Host: Oh yeah. Because their schedule is experiment, experiment, experiment, and you know.

Elisca Hicks: Maybe a lunch break.

Host: Maybe, yeah.

Mike Berrill: Yeah.

Elisca Hicks: And a lot of times they’re working right through that too. So yeah, so it can get.

Mike Berrill: It gets fun.

Host: Yeah.

Elisca Hicks: Very.

Host: So, what’s the feedback you’ve gotten from crew about the way that it actually works in space that you implement your training?

Mike Berrill: Absolutely. So, you know, we can kind of understand the technical side of things. We explain how the system works to crew members. And, then we’ve actually been utilizing our debrief mechanism over here at JSC with crew members that have previously flown to kind of get feedback. So, “hey you took our training, how valuable was it to you? And, then what are your tips and tricks? Can you give us some, what was your experience in orbit and then how can we help train future astronauts based on your feedback?” And, so that really helps us out a lot. We’ve picked up lots of little tips and tricks over the years on how to make sure that our future crew members go up there prepared for the situation that they’re going to be put in place. One of the other big things I guess, we kind of, we kind of alluded to with everything is that you know, we have these trainers and stuff like that. But, we have gravity here. Right? So, we have trainers that we can utilize. But, they won’t ever get to fully experience this process of going to the bathroom until they get into orbit.

Elisca Hicks: There’s a little learning curve.

Mike Berrill: Right. So, you know, we try our best, but.

Host: Yeah. OK. So, it’s like they actually, you teach them about techniques, you teach them about the system and how that works. But, really, they put it all together for the first time in space.

Mike Berrill: Correct, yeah.

Host: And, that’s when that really, that’s the challenge, because you add that microgravity element.

Mike Berrill: It changes everything.

Host: Yeah. That’s interesting because you’re teaching a systems level thing, but you’re also teaching like techniques and what works. Do you find that it’s more individualized or do you find there’s a universal technique?

Mike Berrill: We do get lots of feedback that’s different for each crew member. There is, it’s kind of a trend in this works well. And then some crew members kind of do things just a little bit differently. But, by and large, some of the techniques are pretty similar. You know, a lot of times we’re lucky in that we have, you know, vehicles overlapping each other. So, the off going crew can kind of give their tips and tricks while they’re on orbit, which gives them that quick memory jogger before they have to jump into it. Otherwise, you know, it could’ve been six months since they had me, you know, teaching these great potty techniques and they’re just going to have to learn on the fly.

Host: That’s true. They have a lot of other things they got to be learning at the same time.

Mike Berrill: You know, it’s, with microgravity and fluids escaping, it becomes self-correcting pretty quickly, you figure it out.

Elisca Hicks: Yeah, they do say they learn very quickly. We’ve had even some crew members say that it was just easier just to remove my pants completely.

Mike Berrill: Oh, yes.

Elisca Hicks: So, things like that even you’ll get some comments.

Mike Berrill: Right. And, that’s kind of what we were talking about with the you can’t just go in there and expect to be ready to go. You have to, you know, the first couple of tries, they say I get fully unclothed to get this. I don’t want to get any messes — so.

Host: Yeah. I’m sure like the, one of the procedures is cleaning up afterwards too, just making sure that the bathroom itself is constantly clean.

Mike Berrill: Absolutely.

Host: You’ve got a finite amount of people. And, these are, these systems have been running for a while now too.

Mike Berrill: Absolutely.

Host: You have to keep them going.

Mike Berrill: Crew members get pretty close with each other. And, they understand, it’s kind of just like, you know, living in an apartment with a friend or something like that. Right? You don’t want to —

Elisca Hicks: Be courteous.

Mike Berrill: Yeah. Be courteous.

Host: Yeah.

Mike Berrill: You don’t want to leave a mess for your next, your next crew mate. And, they’re really good about that, so.

Host: Now, I think some of our listeners might not know what the bathroom looks like or where it is on the space station. How I think it is, it’s in a Node, it’s in Node 3.

Elisca Hicks: Right.

Mike Berrill: Right.

Host: It’s in the same place with all the exercise equipment. Right?

Mike Berrill: Absolutely.

Host: But, you have, you have privacy. Right? There’s like, there’s barriers.

Mike Berrill: Yeah absolutely. So, you kind of equate it to kind of just like a public restroom where you have these stalls type thing. So, we actually have a stall up on orbit right now just to kind of preface all of that. We have two different toilets on orbit right now. There’s a Russian one over on the Russian segment. And, then we have one, the Waste and Hygiene Compartment, also known as the WHC over in the U.S. segment in Node 3, like you mentioned. So right now, we have a stall that gives us that privacy. It’s kind of cantilevered off of the front of the rack if you will, so it does have that above and below section kind of like you would in a regular stall.

Elisca Hicks: Just like at the regular bathroom.

Mike Berrill: Right. And, so it is a familiar feeling for them. But, they have that nice closed off privacy. And, like you mentioned, because it is in Node 3 where so many things go on, the exercise, you know, a lot of maintenance.

Elisca Hicks: Other hygiene.

Host: High traffic area.

Mike Berrill: Exactly.

Elisca Hicks It is.

Mike Berrill: The [Permanent Multipurpose Module] PMM, our big storage thing is right there. So, you’ve got people coming back and forward.

Elisca Hicks: The Cupola.

Mike Berrill: Yeah and Cupola, exactly. So, there’s a lot of stuff going on there. So, privacy is a, you know, a big concern. But, our stall helps us with that.

Host: Yeah. You said the stall is kind of like a bathroom, so it’s got an open top and an open bottom. So, to be courteous in space, I’m sure you take, you take around the closed barrier whenever you’re going to the [Advanced Resistive Exercise Device] ARED or the exercise machine.

Mike Berrill: It is actually fully enclosed too, it has a door.

Host: Oh, the whole thing is enclosed.

Mike Berrill: It does have a top and bottom open.

Host: It’s open, OK.

Mike Berrill: But there is a door on the front, which they can close, just like it would be for a stall here on the ground.

Host: Yeah, yeah. OK. I’m thinking about being courteous to your neighbors. Right? You don’t want to be floating over the open.

Elisca Hicks: Oh no it’s not that —

Mike Berrill: It’s not that much.

Elisca Hicks: Yeah not much, I mean, you would have to really position yourself awkwardly —

Host: Interesting.

Elisca Hicks: –at the overhead to peak in. [Laughter]

Mike Berrill: I mean, you could be creepy, I guess. But, it’s like eight inches or something. So, you’d have to be really trying so.

Host: Oh OK. OK. Well that’s good. That’s, it forces you to almost be courteous in space.

Mike Berrill: Absolutely.

Host: So, this stall, right, I’m sure this is a nice private area for the crew and it’s meant to be the bathroom. But, I think it’s also where they shower. Right?

Elisca Hicks: So, that is a location.

Host: That is a location.

Elisca Hicks: But, we do have another location where crew have sort of created on their own at first. And, then we tried to help with that. So, in the PMM, there in bay one, they have a dedicated hygiene area as well. But, in order to protect the equipment and the stowage that’s in there, we actually have what we call hygiene curtains. And, so these are covering, they are actually required to be there in order to protect the equipment. We don’t want loose water flying out everywhere and then getting behind electronics or, you know, other stowage and then it gets moist and moldy. These are all kind of things that we have to think about. So, we try to protect that area. But, crew has a little bit of larger space than in the WHC, it is small.

Host: Oh, the stall is pretty small. So, this is sort of like the –

Elisca Hicks: How would you explain that, Mike?

Host: Storage closet PMM. It’s kind of, it’s kind of where things are stored.

Mike Berrill: Right.

Host: But you just have privacy, so, it’s a little bit more space.

Mike Berrill: So, their big thing was is although you can go do the hygiene in the WHC area and that stall, would you really want to go, you know, take a shower where you’re going to the bathroom? You know? It’s not exactly something that you’d like to do. And, this, but the space is really constricting, as well.

Elisca Hicks: If you’ve lived on a sailboat, they —

Mike Berrill: Right.

Elisca Hicks: A lot of those, right, you have your shower and your toilet in the same spot. I don’t like that but.

Mike Berrill: No. If you want the closest comparison I can think of, go into an airplane bathroom and try and think about how you would do —

Elisca Hicks: How you would bathe.

Mike Berrill: How you would bathe in that small amount of space. But then also you have the toilet right there.

Mike Berrill: Would you even want to? Exactly.

Host: OK. So, this was the work around for the crew. The crew’s like I need more space.

Elisca Hicks: Yeah.

Mike Berrill: Absolutely.

Host: So, OK where’s a nice private area —

Mike Berrill: Yeah and crew, crew actually started it out. They said, hey, they wanted a little bit more room. And, so they actually came up with that idea themselves and then we kind of caught up with them.

Elisca Hicks: And, then we got it officially approved, yeah.

Mike Berrill: Yeah, we caught up with them and, you know, protected all the stuff to make sure that they had that space for them.

Host: OK. So, they have their, a little bit more space to shower, but it’s not showering like you and I would.

Elisca Hicks: Oh no.

Host: Yeah.

Elisca Hicks: No there’s no flowing water at all.

Host: OK.

Elisca Hicks: So, what happens is, essentially, you have a drink bag. So, the drink bag is made out of like a Mylar material. So, you use the portable water dispenser to fill up this drink bag, you know. But then you’ll use that for your showering. We also have another bag that has, it’s a shower gel kind of in it. And, then we also have another piece that is a towel inside that drink bag and it already has some soap already inside of that towel. So, you have a couple of different items you can use for your hygiene. You can just bring a bar of soap as well with your towels. So, you’d have to squirt the water out of the drink bag into your towel and wet that up. So, you’re sponge bathing, essentially. But then how are you going to rinse? Right? So, then your kind of squirting the bottle, or the drink bag in little spots on your body. So, just to kind of give a visual here. So, it blobs up, so surface tension helps it stick to your body. So hopefully, if you’re not shaking around a lot, it’ll stick to your body and then you can use a towel to come and go over your entire body to rinse or dry off too.

Host: Oh OK.

Elisca Hicks: So, it’s definitely different from on the ground.

Mike Berrill: Very.

Host: Wow.

Elisca Hicks: And, then washing your hair, of course, they have a technique for that as well to take that drink bag and kind of put some droplets of water on their scalp and then put little drops of shampoo. And, then they’ll work it from their scalp moving upward up through their hair to kind of work it, the shampoo and the water, through their hair. So, they use actually really a small amount, like it’s probably about 150 milliliters to 200 milliliters to bathe.

Host: That’s it? Wow. Yeah, it makes you think man I’m wasting a lot of water in the shower.

Elisca Hicks: Yes.

Host: I’m just letting the thing run.

Mike Berrill: Very much so.

Elisca Hicks: Yeah.

Mike Berrill: And we don’t have the luxury of wasting water up in orbit, so.

Elisca Hicks: Yeah. Mike and I were actually talking the other day, I was trying to think of a good analogy. Kind of like, if you’re in an RV, you know, you have a limited amount of water. And, so if you showered in that, or like on a sailboat. A lot of times people will turn on the water to just get wet, then lather up without the water running, and then turn the water on again to just rinse off. So, you want it really quick and short so that you can save your water. So, take that kind of as an analogy. But, you don’t have the water running over you.

Mike Berrill: Yeah.

Host: Now, well that’s an important thing. Right? Because this is not like the shower like you and I would have where like you, it’s the, you know, you’ve got tiles on the walls and it’s meant to go down a drain.

Elisca Hicks: Right.

Host: You have to be conscious of where this water is going.

Elisca Hicks: Is going.

Host: And, it sounds like a lot of it’s sticking to you. So that’s good, but it sounds like you dry off with a towel. And, then what happens to this wet towel?

Elisca Hicks: Oh, that’s a good one. So, the towel, you only get about one every five days. So, you do have to reuse your towels and be very cautious of what you’re using them for. So, crew have actually come up with good techniques so, that towel that you’re talking about goes up to hang, it gets hung up, floats there.

Host: Oh, yes.

Elisca Hicks: To air dray. So, and all that waste water again, goes back into the regeneration system, so that we can use it again for portable water. But, then those towels, crew will eventually downgrade them. So, they may use them for hygiene for a while. And, then after they kind of no longer that clean, then they’ll start to use them as their exercise towels to help wipe off from sweaty stuff or if they need it to do any other type of cleaning, they’ll just. They keep degrading it until, oh OK this, it’s got to go in the trash.

Mike Berrill: That’s where it needs to go.

Host: Yeah, that’s what you mean by downgrading. I do the same thing, when I have old towels.

Elisca Hicks: Yeah.

Host: And I’ve put them through the wash way too many times.

Elisca Hicks: Use them for your housekeeping.

Host: Yeah, they become like car towels.

Mike Berrill: Right. Exactly.

Host: OK. So that’s what you mean, it’s like eventually, you go from a bathing towel to now it’s wiping down equipment.

Elisca Hicks: Exactly.

Host: This thing is, yeah, it’s been used too much.

Elisca Hicks: Too much.

Host: OK. So, you’re really, I mean efficiency seems to be a really key theme here.

Elisca Hicks: Yes.

Host: Like you’re using the same towel over and over again, but you’re still thinking about the life cycle of that towel because you only have a limited number of towels.

Elisca Hicks: You only get so many.

Host: Yeah. You can’t just go down to Walmart and get more.

Elisca Hicks: Nope.

Host: Yeah.

Elisca Hicks: And, it cost a whole lot to send up more stuff.

Mike Berrill: It does, yeah.

Host: Oh, OK. So, this is part of the feedback that the crew has given you on shower as to implement to have more space. Do you get more preference? It sounds like there’s a lot of options too when it comes to showering, you know, you can use this water droplet technique you can use the soap impregnated towel technique, you can use all these. So, what are, what kinds of tips and tricks are the crew giving you to implement into shower, showering and hygiene?

Elisca Hicks: Well, Mike help me if you think of any in particular.

Mike Berrill: I’m trying to think of our debriefs, right. A lot of them they kind of, they all have their own techniques and their own preferences. Not everyone uses all the different types.

Elisca Hicks: Correct.

Mike Berrill: Some of them have their preference.

Elisca Hicks: They have to pick, actually, ahead of time. So, there’s a whole other group called crew provisions. And, they get to go pick out their clothes that they want and what type of shampoo, what kind of toothpaste they want.

Host: Oh interesting.

Elisca Hicks: And so, but yeah, if you want a bar of soap, then you need to decide that before you even fly. So, we’ve had some situations where people end up not liking what they picked. And, then luckily another crew member had something. And, so they’ll try to take that information and pass it along to other crew members just to be aware of.

Mike Berrill: Yeah.

Elisca Hicks: Yeah, other options.

Mike Berrill: I guess one of the good examples I can think of is something, again, you wouldn’t really think about because we take it for granted, is hot showers. Right? Well we don’t have, you know, running water. So, how would they do that? Actually, one of the things we found out is crew members they would take their drink bags or their, you know, soapy water bags and actually put it in the food warmer to warm it up. Right? So, then they’d come back about 30 minutes later and have a warm shower.

Elisca Hicks: Well, we have hot water but —

Host: A warm shower.

Mike Berrill: And, it’s just something you wouldn’t even have thought about. Right?

Host: Yeah.

Mike Berrill: It just, ambient is what we usually use on orbit.

Elisca Hicks: Yeah.

Mike Berrill: So, they warm it up for themselves if they want that warm shower feeling, and they can take their shower like that. So again, things we take for granted here on the ground.

Elisca Hicks: Even the preparation, like you said, like —

Mike Berrill: Right.

Elisca Hicks: You can dispense hot water out of the Portable Water Dispenser. But if, let’s say you had other things to go do and you’re gathering your other stuff. Well it might get cold by the time you can go to that. So, you’re sticking it in the food warmer till it is time to go take your bath.

Host: Oh wow. And, what’s interesting, I think an interesting thing here is that crew preference is throughout this whole thing. Whether you want a bar of soap, whether you want the gel, whether you want — you have options, that’s the weird thing to me when it comes to spaceflight. Usually, like, when you think about that, you think about astronauts with like protein bars, this is what you’re getting. You’re getting this soap and that’s it. But, it’s interesting, there’s a little bit of preference here.

Elisca Hicks: So, there is a little bit. They definitely have to be careful about what they pick. And, if you want a certain thing that, they have to look at all the ingredients because of that ECLSS system that we talked about. Some of our systems can’t handle like alcohol for example. So, if you want a particular type of lotion and it has a high alcohol content, they’re not, they’re not going to allow you to fly that. So, there are, there is a set number of options.

Host: Approved list.

Elisca Hicks: Yeah. There’s an approved list. And, if you really wanted to go outside of that list, it has to get special permission to look at the contents of it. Can we, you know, can we handle those ingredients? Because it’s an enclosed loop system for sure.

Host: Yeah.

Elisca Hicks: Everything you eat, you know, you drink, you breathe, it’s all getting recycled.

Host: Yeah. You have to be conscious of this, you have to be conscious of the crew preference, yes, and making sure that they feel like almost at home, because they’re going to be up there for a long time.

Elisca Hicks: The moral.

Mike Berrill: It’s is a moral thing as well. So, if we can get them as close to what they’re used to on the ground, it does help out.

Host: Yeah.

Elisca Hicks:It’s Nice.

Elisca Hicks: But then also considering the systems. Like these systems have to run and they, you can’t mess up the water recycling, because that is your source of water.

Mike Berrill: Absolutely.

Host: Yeah. All right. I’m going through my house now.

Elisca Hicks: OK.

Host: We’ve done the bathroom, we’ve done the shower. I’m moving on to brushing your teeth.

Elisca Hicks: OK.

Host: So, what’s it like to brush your teeth in space?

Elisca Hicks: The brushing your teeth, you don’t have a sink to sit in, spit in, so you have to just either spit it out in a towel. And, again, one of those things, you’re going to just hang it up to dry, your spit will get reclaimed and then. Or, you know, if you have a small amount of toothpaste, you could swallow it if you absolutely wanted to, but that’s, that could be, yeah you don’t want to do that too much. Spitting in the towel is usually the way that they’ll do it.

Host: And, is this, do they go in that little PMM section to do that or can you do this in your crew quarters?

Mike Berrill: Yeah, they can, they can do it.

Elisca Hicks: Crew quarters.

Mike Berrill: Yeah, they can do it wherever they feel is the best place. Actually, right now, on the side of that stall, where the WHC lives, on the outside of that, they actually have this kind of personal hygiene corner where they’ve got these, they’ve got these little comfort kits, where they’ve got a lot of their personal hygiene products in it where they brush their teeth, they shave, they have a mirror. And, they’ll go do it there all in that one nice location.

Elisca Hicks: Because if someone’s in the, I’ll call it the shower, if they’re in the PMM, then, you might want to be brushing your teeth, you know, you’ve got those separate areas as well, so.

Host: Oh OK. Yeah, we’re thinking about the whole crew here. Someone’s going to be showering, someone’s going to be brushing their teeth, leaving the toilet open, so you’re not —

Elisca Hicks: Exactly.

Host: OK, OK.

Elisca Hicks: You’ve got a lot of crew. Like we, right, we just had four U.S. crew members up there so, with one toilet.

Mike Berrill: Exactly.

Elisca Hicks: It takes a little coordination.

Host: That’s right.

Mike Berrill: Got to rotate around a little bit.

Elisca Hicks: Exactly. Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Host: Are they using basic toothbrushes, or are we doing —

Elisca Hicks: Yes.

Host: — Electric toothbrushes.

Elisca Hicks: No. No electric toothbrushes.

Host: OK.

Elisca Hicks: They do have just normal toothbrushes, but they get one every 21 days is the resupply for the toothbrush. So, you know, because you can’t really rinse it out very well or anything. So, you’re going to use it and then you’ll get another one later.

Host: Oh OK. And, that’s it. That one’s pretty simple. Right? You just have a space to brush your teeth, you spit it in the towel, and then make sure that, that water gets recycled.

Elisca Hicks: Yes.

Host: OK. All right. Let’s see what else? You said, oh you mentioned they had this little space where you can brush your teeth and they talk, you said a little bit about shaving.

Elisca Hicks: Yeah.

Mike Berrill: Right yeah shaving as well. You know, I don’t want to step on Elisca, but they do, you know, they have, they do, the crew members that need to shave, they have options. They’ll have like an electric razor as an option. Again, this is all kind of managing crew.

Elisca Hicks: Crew preference again, yeah.

Mike Berrill: The crew preference. Or they can also use like just general safety razors that we use, you know.

Elisca Hicks: Just manual, every day.

Mike Berrill: Safety razor. And, they’ll get a supply of either shaving gel or cream and they can just go ahead and shave themselves. Again, same thing, no running water so you kind of have to use a towel, again, going back to what Elisca mentioned, maybe it’s a downgraded hygiene towel now that they can just wipe all the stuff off that you wouldn’t want to wipe back on yourself. Right? So, and then the other big thing is, you know, especially if you’re using an electric razor. If you guys have ever used an electric razor and if you’ve ever opened up to the top of that, just little hairs everywhere. Right?

Host: Yeah.

Mike Berrill: So that could become like an explosion of little hairs. And, you know, you don’t want to get that in your eye or anything like that. So actually, this personal hygiene area has some vents right next to it. So, if anything does get liberated, it actually turns toward that vent away from our crew members as well.

Elisca Hicks: And, then they can go back and clean it later on, which we’ll talk more later about housekeeping.

Mike Berrill: Housekeeping

Elisca Hicks: Yeah. So, the razors, the manual razors, they actually don’t reuse those, those, because you can’t clean them out very well, they get a new razor every day.

Mike Berrill: Right.

Host: OK.

Elisca Hicks: Or blade I should say.

Host: And, you don’t really want a dull blade in space either so yeah.

Mike Berrill: No.

Host: To change those out would be pretty important. Are you using, you had this technique, it’s hard to visualize on the podcast with an audio thing, you had this technique where you were pretending to hold the razor and you were dipping, you were dipping the razor blade in, I think what was a towel?

Elisca Hicks: Actually, you’re going to wipe it.

Host: You’re wiping it.

Elisca Hicks: Wipe it onto the towel.

Mike Berrill: Kind of across the blade swiping.

Elisca Hicks: So that you can at least get the hair and the shaving cream off of the razor blade to go back and reapply it to your face or your legs.

Host: Is this a, is this a water free sort of technique? Or are you just using shaving cream and blade and just that’s it?

Mike Berrill: The cream itself is usually, it’s good.

Elisca Hicks: Yeah.

Mike Berrill: I’m sure again, every crew member might be a little bit different, right, and want to use a little bit of water as well.

Host: They might do the little dab technique.

Elisca Hicks: Yes.

Host: Like they do for the shower.

Elisca Hicks: Maybe the dab technique. I know some of our other crew members that don’t have any hair on their head, that they will just use the lotion and, you know, they like that a lot too, just go right over their head —

Host: Yeah.

Elisca Hicks: — with the razor. So, but yeah, so it’s like again —

Mike Berrill: Preference.

Elisca Hicks: Preference yeah.

Host: Crew preference, yeah, there’s a lot of that. Yeah.

Elisca Hicks: And what works best. Right?

Host: Yeah.

Elisca Hicks: You do it one time and you’re like, no need a little water.

Mike Berrill: Yeah definitely.

Elisca Hicks: Yeah, so.

Host: So, you talked about this, you talked about this, I’m focusing on this area where you can brush your teeth, where you can shave and stuff. You talked about there’s vents that seems like a good place to capture like nails and stuff too if you’re clipping your nails.

Elisca Hicks: So, we have, we actually have special fingernail clippers that have a little container on them that try to capture it. And, they do send up fingernail clippers and toenail clippers. But, exactly, if you get one that goes loose, rogue on you. So, you want to do that near this [High Efficiency Particulate Air] HEPA filter so that it gets sucked onto that filter and then later on, you can go back and clean it up with a vacuum cleaner. But yeah. It’s important, because you don’t want one of those in your eyeball.

Host: No.

Mike Berrill: No.

Elisca Hicks: Or accidentally sucked it up in your mouth.

Host: Yeah so, it’s kind of like home because, you know, if I’m shaving I do it over the sink.

Elisca Hicks: Right.

Host: You know? I’m not just going to be doing it in like a random room, there’s like a place that I’m doing it. And, it’s like it’s the same as space station, you just have a place and it is next to that vent.

Mike Berrill: Right.

Host: That vent is super important, especially for those rogue hairs. I can see that thing.

Elisca Hicks: Yes.

Host: Especially for the eyes, and something for, yeah. Oh, haircuts too.

Elisca Hicks: Yes.

Host: Is this the place where you do haircuts?

Elisca Hicks: Yes, it is.

Mike Berrill: It can be, it can be a location.

Elisca Hicks: Yes, we have a couple of different locations. So, in the Nodes, so Node 1 and Node 2 and 3 there are vents that we usually suggest. But there are some exceptions to that, because Node 1 is where you’re doing most of your eating, that’s where our whole galley rack is located. So, you kind of want to think about that too, like, “do I want to clip my toenails and cut my hair where I’m going to be eating?” Maybe not. So yeah. So, Node 3 usually around the WHC area, you know, it’s already got that and the exercise equipment, so. And, it has good airflow on those vents. So, but for hair cutting, we actually need to assist because the vent is not quite enough suction while you’re doing your hair cutting. So, you have a vacuum cleaner. And, we have an attachment called the hair clipper hose. And, we’ll use that. And, we have the hair clipper, like a barber hair clipper. But, we also have regular grade salon scissors. And so, we’ve had some crew members actually take their fellow crew members to their hairdressers and had one ask me.

Mike Berrill: This is how I prefer.

Elisca Hicks: Yeah, I know. It was kind of cool, one day, I had one ask me, “where do you get your hair cut Elisca?” And I told her and she’s like, “OK great.” The next thing I know, our hairdresser’s telling me that they brought in her fellow crew member and she taught, the hair dresser, taught the other crew member how to cut her hair. And so.

Host: Wow.

Elisca Hicks: Yeah. So that you can kind of keep up your stylish. Right? It’s still floating everywhere. So, but if you like short hair or you know.

Mike Berrill: You got to add that to the astronaut’s job descriptions, hair cutting skills.

Host: Yeah.

Elisca Hicks: Hairdresser. [Laughter]

Host: They really are everything. They’re the scientist, they’re the mechanic, they’re the plumber and they’re the barber.

Elisca Hicks: They do.

Mike Berrill: Absolutely.

Elisca Hicks: Yes. So that hair clipper hose, helps, it’s kind of a two-person job as well. So, one will be cutting someone’s hair and the other one’s got that hair clipper hose kind of close to their head to catch those loose hairs as they’re getting cut off and then goes into the vacuum cleaner.

Host: OK. So there really is a little bit of styling. You know, you’re, a lot of this job is, yes, hygiene and making sure that the place is clean and making sure that the astronauts are taken care of. But there is, there’s a lot of personal elements more so, than I actually realized of, to just try to make it like home.

Mike Berrill: Right.

Host: And, that includes having a hairstyle that you’re comfortable with.

Mike Berrill: Right.

Host: That you feel good with.

Mike Berrill: And, I mean it’s moral, but it’s also, you know, they’re doing, you know, PAO events all the time, they’re getting, you know, videos down linked. So, you know, they want to look good for the camera.

Host: Yeah. That’s true. Is there, is there a cosmetic, more cosmetic elements to this? Like is there, you know, are we talking hair and makeup?

Elisca Hicks: So again, it goes down to that crew provisions and you can request particular makeup.

Host: OK.

Elisca Hicks: But again, it has to make sure that it passes those ingredients and make sure that we can actually bring that up on space station. So again, approves list, but if you have something special you can, got to go through all the, yeah, you may not be able to bring what you normally have so.

Host: Oh OK.

Elisca Hicks: But, yeah, it again, that’s up to the crew if they want to bring makeup or not.

Host: And, making sure that it’s, I guess good for space too. Right?

Elisca Hicks: Yes.

Host: You don’t want to have liquids flying everywhere, you’ve got to have a bottle that works.

Elisca Hicks: Right.

Host: And all these, all these different space considerations. OK. So, I’m going through my house again. Right? We’re talking about shaving, I’m going out, I’m going out of the bathroom now and I’m going over to my laundry room. I have a lot of laundry to do for sure. And, I mean, honestly, like maybe two times I’ll wear a shirt, but then it’s going right in, right in the wash. That’s kind of me. What is it like in space?

Elisca Hicks: For space, they have their daily wear, they also get exercise clothing and sleepwear. But, they definitely do not get to change it every day. Your shirt, your daily shirt is one every seven days. Underwear’s every one to two days, I mean two to three days for underwear, you’re going to re-wear it. And then your exercise clothes, again, usually one every five days, and you’re just hanging that up to dry when it’s all sweaty and you get that reclaimed and you’re going to re-wear it. But again, space or stowage, I want to be careful with the word I use. Stowage is —

Host: Yeah.

Elisca Hicks: — a very complicated thing on a space station. You do not have a lot of space.

Mike Berrill: Right.

Elisca Hicks: So, we really have to be mindful of that. So, your towel, like we mentioned, your towel you get one and you have to reuse them. So, same thing with your clothes. And, there is no washing machine.

Mike Berrill: Right.

Elisca Hicks: So, you, after you can’t use it anymore, you’re going to be throwing it away.

Host: Wow. OK. So, you use it as much as you can until it’s no longer hygienic to wear and then it’s going in the trash.

Elisca Hicks: Yeah, your crew member makes a funny look at you going, I think it’s time. [Laughter]

Mike Berrill: Yeah exactly. Those rates sound really high. Right? But remember, you know, the ISS is a very controlled environment. Right? So, we don’t have the high swings, highs and lows like we do here on the ground, so.

Elisca Hicks: Right. Thank you, Mike.

Mike Berrill: You know, just the day to day wear, probably not going to be overly sweating into it. Right? But —

Elisca Hicks:Your temperature and humidity is the same.

Mike Berrill: Exactly.

Elisca Hicks: Yeah, it’s very controlled, the temperature and humidity.

Host: So, the environment is important to the hygienic aspect of things too.

Mike Berrill: Definitely.

Host: So, you’re not sweating through your clothes all the time.

Mike Berrill: Right. And, so obviously exercise they are going to be sweating. Right?

Elisca Hicks: You’re not going outside, you don’t get that weird outside smell and then go inside.

Host: Yeah.

Mike Berrill: Because I remember the first time I heard one ever seven days for a shirt, I’m like wow, that’s a lot.

Elisca Hicks: Yeah.

Mike Berrill: But you know, it’s so heavily, you know, managed, the environment up there, it’s actually not quite as bad.

Host: Yeah. It seems like there’s a little bit of personalization when it comes to laundry too, or when it comes to just clothing that you wear. I see T-shirts from alma maters and that sort of thing.

Elisca Hicks: Yeah.

Mike Berrill: Yeah.

Host: But it seems like there’s just like space pants. Am I right in saying that? There’s just space pants.

Elisca Hicks: There are some that, yeah.

Host: Yeah.

Mike Berrill: A lot of different options.

Host: The ones with the Velcro on it.

Mike Berrill: Right.

Elisca Hicks: Yeah.

Mike Berrill: So, exactly, you got to really think about it. So, you know, pants with Velcro are just like gold on orbit so.

Host: Yeah. Yeah. So, it’s, that practicality there because you want to stick, you’re working all day, so you want something that sticks, you want maybe a moisture wicking fabric, I don’t know if it is moisture wicking or not. But, it’s just something you know is going to be compact and something that’s practical and something that will last for a week. You know?

Elisca Hicks: Or more. The pants, I’m looking at my sheet here to make sure. One every 30 days for your pants.

Host: No way.

Elisca Hicks: Yeah. And, so we’ve had, I’ve heard some stories about, you know, you go to eat something, and it gets away from you and it ends up on your pants. And now what? And, so you’re trying to clean them off.

Host: You can’t have this stain for 25 days.

Mike Berrill: Right.

Elisca Hicks: I have a PAO event in a little while. [Laughter]

Mike Berrill: I got to go change my pants for this PAO event, sorry guys. [Laughter]

Elisca Hicks: Yeah. So again, you really have to be conscious of how you’re using your clothes.

Host: Every 30 days, I’m trying to do that like a little bit of math. On a typical six month increments that’s six pairs of pants that you’re wearing for the, for your whole mission. Wow, that’s not a lot.

Mike Berrill: No, that’s not.

Elisca Hicks: No.

Host: Six pairs of pants a week maybe.

Mike Berrill: Yeah exactly.

Elisca Hicks: Hope they fit, right. Don’t gain too much weight. [Laughter]

Mike Berrill: Exactly. And, not to get into that much, but their physiology does change while they’re in orbit. You know? So.

Host: Yeah, spine elongation.

Mike Berrill: Spine elongation.

Elisca Hicks: Some people lose weight; some people can maintain it if they’re exercising and eating enough calories. So yeah that’s all.

Host: Yeah. So now I’m leaving the laundry room, I’m going downstairs to the kitchen. I just had a wonderful meal. I have silverware. Do they have silverware up in space?

Elisca Hicks: They do have silverware.

Host: OK.

Elisca Hicks: So, they have metal silverware that they’ll clean off and then reuse. So, if you’ve ever seen, in Node 1, a photo of the galley area, you’ll see they actually just have labels and then they’ve got them like stuck to the outside of the rack, tapped up there or Velcroed up there. So, they use their silverware. They get a knife, they get a fork, a spoon, a really long spoon, and yeah.

Host: They just, one set per crew member?

Elisca Hicks: One set per crew member.

Host: No way. What do they wash it with?

Elisca Hicks: So, we have, we were talking about this the other day. So, I’ll be, I’ll be just, because we’re talking very casually we’ve heard some people just lick it an go on.

Host: Hey it’s your fork.

Elisca Hicks: It’s your fork exactly. That’s what I was saying, just make sure you don’t use someone else’s.

Host: Yeah.

Elisca Hicks: Or, but the other thing you can do is we have disinfectant wipes onboard. They’ll wipe that and then just so that residue’s not left on there, they’ll take a towel with some water and wipe that off again and then just hang it out to dry.

Host: Is that it for dishes? Because I think, the food comes in packages and stuff, so yeah.

Mike Berrill: Yeah, it’s all self-packaged.

Elisca Hicks: Right.

Host: Yeah you don’t have plates or anything you have to worry about.

Elisca Hicks: Right.

Host: So, it’s really just the silverware and then you just have your set.

Elisca Hicks: Yeah. So.

Host: And it’s up to you to maintain it however you want.

Elisca Hicks: Right. You have a set that you go up on your vehicle with.

Host: Yeah.

Elisca Hicks: And, then in what’s called your crew preference food container, I’ll call it, they actually have their specific set. So, I guess technically you have two.

Mike Berrill: Yeah.

Elisca Hicks: But, you have to hold on to the one that you flew up with until you can find–

Mike Berrill: Exactly.

Elisca Hicks:— That.

Mike Berrill: Yeah, your main set.

Elisca Hicks: The container that’s got your silverware in it.

Mike Berrill: Exactly. Your main set will already be onboard before you arrive.

Elisca Hicks: Yes.

Mike Berrill: And, so you fly up on a vehicle, that vehicle will have a temporary set for you to use until you find your —

Elisca Hicks: Your set, yeah exactly.

Mike Berrill:Your utensils, right.

Host: Yeah you get like the plastic fork until you find, until you find, yeah. Oh man. You have more of an incentive to go find your silverware. Right?

Mike Berrill: Exactly.

Host: Oh, that’s interesting. So, what about, so you talked about disinfectant wipes. That makes me think about like washing your hands.

Elisca Hicks: Yeah.

Host: Like one of the top things that doctors say if you want to prevent diseases like the number one thing you can do is wash your hands. How do they wash their hands?

Elisca Hicks: So, we have several different types of wipes onboard. So, I’ll be careful about the disinfectant wipe is really more for cleaning, house cleaning and things. And, it does have a hydrogen peroxide as the cleaning agent. So, if you’ve ever used that on your skin a lot, it could dry out your skin. So, we do have wet wipes, like a baby wipe onboard as well. And, I’ve even heard some people using that pouch with the soap, they’ll just kind of get a little bit of that and wash their hands real quick. So, it’s really again, I hate to say, crew preference again. But it is, it is.

Mike Berrill: Whatever works.

Elisca Hicks: You know, so yeah, if you’re going to use a wet wipe to try to clean off your hands.

Host: Now I know like —

Elisca Hicks: Because we’ve got those easily throughout the station as well. Like so they’ll just have wet wipes attached to the outside of the rack in various locations in station.

Host: Yeah. I know just washing your hands is just a normal thing that we do here, because there’s just, there’s disease and there’s —

Elisca Hicks: Yeah.

Host: You know, it’s just a normal thing just to stay hygienic. But, the space station is just a controlled environment. Like is it the same, is it the same thing washing your hands, preventing diseases? Or is it, you know, you don’t have to worry about that as much maybe, or maybe there is bacteria.

Mike Berrill: A little bit of both.

Elisca Hicks: There is. So, we’ve had, in the past, we’ve had some microbial growth, I’ll say.

Host: OK.

Elisca Hicks: I’ll call it. So, we, and again, if you’re not cleaning up after yourself, we are humans, we are gross. If you’ve ever watched some of the YouTube videos, Don Pettit has a great one about skin falling off, the bottom of your feet.

Host: Oh, I seen that one.

Elisca Hicks: Yeah.

Host: He shines a light and he pulls off his sock, right.

Elisca Hicks: Yeah, he said you have to change your socks by a filter, that same filter we were talking about to catch your toenails and your hair and everything.

Host: Yes.

Elisca Hicks: So yeah, your skin cells and everything.

Mike Berrill: That video definitely enlightened me.

Elisca Hicks: Yeah hygiene.

Mike Berrill: So, you know. Our skin comes off us all the time, but it just falls to the ground.

Elisca Hicks: Falls to the ground.

Mike Berrill: That doesn’t happen in space —

Elisca Hicks: We don’t really think about that —

Host: Right.

Elisca Hicks: — going everywhere and in weird places behind racks and inside of vent tubes and you know. So, they have, they have weekly housekeeping. I don’t know, am I jumping too far ahead? [Laughter]

Host: No, that was exactly where I was going next, because that was where my brain was going. Like, they got, I want to wipe that stuff down.

Elisca Hicks: Exactly.

Host: I’m thinking about it, yeah.

Elisca Hicks: So, we do have housekeeping scheduled for the crew every weekend. So, kind of like you, at your house. Right? You got to do it. No one wants to really do it. But, you have to.

Host: Yeah.

Elisca Hicks: And so, on the weekends they get time scheduled to do housekeeping. That includes vacuuming all the vents, wiping down hard surfaces, the walls, the ceilings, everything, and just anything that needs some special attention. Obviously, our dirtier modules would be Node 3, because we do have the WHC, all of the exercise equipment and everything in there. So, we actually list the modules in preference for the crew members. So like Node 3’s your dirtiest then maybe Node 1, because that’s where you’re eating, and everything. So, kind of just like your house, your bathroom, probably is really important to clean.

Mike Berrill: Yeah.

Host: Yep.

Elisca Hicks: And your kitchen. And, then you can kind of, you know, go around and get those other areas. But —

Mike Berrill: And, you know, every crew member’s a little bit differently. We do know that crew members will clean up as they go during the week as well. We just schedule a little bit of time on the weekend.

Elisca Hicks: Right.

Mike Berrill: To make sure they have the time needed, if needed.

Elisca Hicks: Yeah.

Host: So, it sounds like using those wipes and it sounds like a lot of vacuuming too.

Elisca Hicks: Yes.

Host: OK.

Elisca Hicks: There is a lot of vacuuming. [Laughter]

Host: Yeah. So, like I have a vacuum that I plug into the wall and then I roll around the house. How does the vacuum work in space?

Elisca Hicks: So, we have a commercial grade vacuum cleaner. And, they just like, well the one thing to think about, so nowadays there’s bunch of vacuum cleaners out there that have just the canisters and you just dump it into your trash can, right, your dirt. And, we can’t do that on orbit. So, we still have the vacuum cleaners that have the debris bags inside of them. So, for the young folks out there, go look this up. There is a debris bag that goes inside of the vacuum cleaner and then you have to change that out. And, so we’ve actually gotten some techniques from some crew to actually leave the vacuum cleaner on. So, they’ll lift the lid where the debris bag is, but they’ll leave the vacuum cleaner on because that bag is full of stuff. Right? You don’t want that coming back out at you.

Host: Oh yeah.

Elisca Hicks: So, we’ve, from feedback from crew, we’ve built a procedure where they have to leave the vacuum cleaner running. Then, they place a piece of tape over that hole so that nothing comes out at them. And, then they can take out that debris bag and then stick it in the trash for later where they’re stowing all their trash and put in a new debris back and ready to go, keep vacuuming.

Host: Yeah. Like a disposable technique, but you got to keep that, you got to keep all the stuff sucked into the bag. And, taping it, that’s an interesting.

Elisca Hicks: Yeah, that’s not a nice day when you get a mouthful of dust and whatever else.

Host: Yeah. Yeah, I’m sure especially with some of the newcomers. They have to learn this from scratch or rely a lot on their crew mates for learning some of these —

Elisca Hicks: Right.

Host: — Interesting techniques like.

Elisca Hicks: Again the —

Host: Who would’ve thought to tape down a vacuum bag?

Elisca Hicks: Right, but again, in training, we —

Mike Berrill: That’s one of the things we hit heavily is —

Elisca Hicks: We hit that one hard.

Host: Really?

Mike Berrill: If you don’t do it right, it’s going to be messy.

Elisca Hicks: It’s going to be, yeah, you’ll learn real quick if you don’t. Right?

Mike Berrill: Self-correcting.

Elisca Hicks: Yeah so, we have that commercial grade one. We also have a wet dry one which is custom made by NASA. And, so we’ve got that for in the weird circumstance that we do have a liquid spill, that we do have something that can suck up liquids too, so.

Host: All right. Yeah, now that kind of leads into my next thought which is a lot of these systems. Right? We talk about just basic hygiene. I’m walking myself through the house, I’m thinking about all these different things. But like, when you’re training for actually using the systems, I’m sure the vacuum is just something you plug in and just go around. But, even just maintaining the International Space Station as a system. You have filters, right, that are changed. We talked about going near this hygiene space where there’s hair, theirs nails and stuff. How do you, how do you clean that?

Elisca Hicks: So again, with the vacuum cleaner.

Host: With the vacuum.

Elisca Hicks: Yep.

Host: OK.

Elisca Hicks: You will go back over it and suck it out. And, the actual people who own the actual filters, they have a routine scheduled deep cleaning of those areas too. But on the weekends, you’re hitting it, kind of like your air conditioner vent at home. Do you know what I’m talking about?

Host: Yeah, yeah.

Elisca Hicks: The filters, same thing. You’re just going to go around and take your vacuum cleaner.

Mike Berrill: Just surface cleaning.

Elisca Hicks: Yep.

Mike Berrill: Every week and then just like a deep clean every so much amount of time.

Elisca Hicks: Right.

Host: Got it. OK.

Elisca Hicks: Right. So, you’re just hitting it with the vacuum cleaner and then going on to the next one.

Host: All right. Now, I know, speaking of systems, one of the most important one I think is the bathroom.

Elisca Hicks: It is.

Host: That bathroom is so important. So, just training for using that system, the system level parts of things, what are you, what are you training the crew to do?

Mike Berrill: Right. So, this is something they’re going to use multiple times a day every single day.

Host: Right.

Mike Berrill: So, we really have to get them comfortable with the system. I kind of alluded to it earlier. You know, we teach them a little bit of everything. First, we have a nice flow of classes for them to take, you know, so they can get first introduced to. “Hey what is, kind of like what we’re doing right now, what is the bathroom on orbit? How do you use it and how’s it going to be different for you?” Right. Then we go into a more specific type class, where we talk about this is now how you’re going to use it, and this is how it functions. Right? So, we go into a little bit more of an engineering detail to kind of say this is how it works. Some things that we use is that there’s a separator inside of this thing, so that when the liquid goes in, right, it’s coming in with air and liquid. But, we want to reclaim that water. So, there’s actually like a spinning drum on the inside that actually pulls the water to the outside of that drum and allows the air to continue going through the center. And then we can siphon off that water, essentially, so that it can go into to our regenerative ECLSS systems.

Host: OK. So, this is not, you’re talking about a toilet that’s been connected to the water recycling water.

Mike Berrill: Absolutely, our toilet is, our toilet is directly plumed into our recycling stuff. So that, you know, exactly, as soon as we urinate into the system, we can start, you know, getting the process going for recycling, if we needed to.

Host: I’m sure just as important as learning to use these systems is learning how to fix these systems.

Mike Berrill: Absolutely. Right. So.

Elisca Hicks: That’s a big one.

Mike Berrill: Think about it, you know, if you are in one of those houses that only has one bathroom and you know, a lot of people. Right? We have four USOS crew members with one USOS bathroom. Right? If that bathroom goes down, yes, we do have the Russian’s one, we each have a handshake we can use in those types of situations. But, crew members are very motivated to get that bathroom up and running again. Right? You don’t want to have to go next door and use their bathroom if you don’t have to. Right?

Host: Drop everything and fix the toilet.

Mike Berrill: Yeah. So, you know we do, our group specifically is very lucky in that crew time opens up very quickly when the bathroom breaks. They’re very motivated to get it fixed. But yes, no, it is a mechanical piece of hardware like everything else on the ground or up in orbit, you know, it does tend to break. However, you know, we do, you know, we’re very cognizant of maintenance cycles, as well. So, we’ll preemptively replace things so that we don’t have it break in really important times, as well.

Host: Oh OK. So, not only fixing when it breaks, but you’re talking about a maintenance routine.

Mike Berrill: Yeah, a maintenance schedule. So, we do some preventative stuff too. So instead of waiting for this piece of hardware to fail, we will preemptively take it out and replace it so that it doesn’t fail when you don’t want it to.

Host: OK. Yeah. I’m sure we’ve learned a lot about this bathroom system and how it works and breaking. And, that’s a huge consideration going forward too, right, is just the bathroom and the reliability of that bathroom. Are we looking at just how this system works, and looking forward to the next things and next systems?

Mike Berrill: Yeah exactly. And, so one of the things that’s coming soon, I’ll say, is there’s, we have already developed a future toilet for the Orion program. That is actually going to be flown up onto the International Space Station soon in the next year or so. And, that’s going to be flown up there early to do kind of like a technology demonstration to prove a concept essentially. You were kind of talking about reliability. The scope of the mission changes for these types of missions. For Orion, the Moon, Mars, and stuff like that. You know, we’re further away from Earth, our back and forth communication gets a little bit more delayed and stuff like that. So, you know, we want it to be reliable so that it doesn’t break as often. How do we do that? You know, it could be less mechanical parts, maybe a little more simple design, stuff like that. But, it may also need to make it a little bit more robust as well. So, like I mentioned, we are flying that new toilet here pretty soon. It’s going to be approved up on the space station ready to fly when Orion launches in the next few years, so.

Host: All right. Yeah that’s an important one. That’s very exciting too.

Mike Berrill: Right.

Host: And, then there’s a lot to be learned on the space station because we’ve done it for so long that you can start thinking about those things and start thinking about reliability.

Mike Berrill: Right.

Host: And that next generation, that’s really —

Mike Berrill: Absolutely.

Host: So, one of the things I forgot actually was, this is an important part of hygiene, is, you know, I was going through my house again, taking out the trash, you know.

Mike Berrill: Right.

Host: We talked about laundry’s part of that trash. Seems like you’re sucking up a lot of things with this vacuum and using the disposal bags, that’s got to build up quickly. So, what’s, where’s it going, how’s it stored?

Mike Berrill: Exactly.

Elisca Hicks: Poop containers.

Mike Berrill: Yeah exactly.

Host: That’s a big one.

Mike Berrill: So yeah, we’ve got a couple of different trash. I’ll kind of focus on both. Right? So, you’ve got your day to day trash. Maybe your old food containers, you know, you vacuum, your nails, your hair, whatever the case may be. What we have to think about is, you know, we’ve got a nice trash service here on the ground where you can go put your trash on the curb and it magically goes away. Right? You know, that is not an option on orbit. So, we have to use our resupply vehicles efficiently. Right? So, some of our resupply vehicles, they can come back to Earth and bring back stuff for them, the others actually kind of do that destructive reentry. Right? So, what we end up doing for that is, we put all of our trash onto those vehicles. And, when they do reenter the Earth’s atmosphere and break up, our trash breaks up with it. Right? It all just goes back to the Earth.

Elisca Hicks: But you are living with your trash.

Mike Berrill: Yep.

Elisca Hicks: So, as we were describing in the PMM about your hygiene area and I said it was in the first bay at the back end of that module is your dumpsters.

Mike Berrill: It’s usually where a lot of our trash is.

Elisca Hicks: That is where a lot of our trash is stowed.

Host: Oh wow.

Elisca Hicks: And, Mike started to explain that we have different types of trash though. We do have wet trash area and you want to keep that separate, because of again those microbial issues and things.

Mike Berrill: Right.

Elisca Hicks: You don’t want stuff growing and getting out or whatever. So, we put those in a special type of bag that helps seal it a little bit better, helps with smells, those kinds of things. So, we even have different types of trash bags.

Mike Berrill: Absolutely.

Elisca Hicks: Depending on what the trash is.

Host: See that’s got to be important if you’re storing your trash for a long period of time, the microbial growth yes, but that that smell.

Mike Berrill: Absolutely.

Host: Just maintaining that. And, I guess tucking it in the back of that module.

Mike Berrill: Yes.

Host: And putting it in a special container, that’s —

Mike Berrill: That’s the best you can get.

Elisca Hicks: Yes, I was about to say, I’m sure we don’t love it, but.

Mike Berrill: Not every bag is the same. Right? And so, some of them, you know, get a little bit leaky. And we just try to double the bag or triple the bag to try and help out. You know, like I said, it’ not weekly. Those vehicles only come down at certain intervals. So, you’re stuck with it until you can get rid of it.

Elisca Hicks: Until you can get rid of it.

Host: Wow. And, that’s, so you said stowage is a big thing. Right? Because I’m thinking about, I’m focusing in on the clothes, for a second, because you have finite amount of clothes. So, you have clothes that are bringing up, so you have all of these. Here’s what you have prepared for you, for your expedition, for your next six months. But, then you also have to think about that turning into trash.

Mike Berrill: Yes.

Host: So, you’re constantly thinking about what’s going up, but also what you have to throw away.

Mike Berrill: Yeah.

Elisca Hicks: Exactly. And your whole groups.

Mike Berrill: Yeah, our group doesn’t manage that.

Host: OK.

Mike Berrill: But they are very intent on, you know, what goes up and what goes down so.

Elisca Hicks: Yeah. And it, I mean, because even again, if you have to think about it, because it’s going on a vehicle and it’s reentering, you want to make sure that, that center of mass is properly figured out. So, there’s whole groups that want to know, not just, “oh this water bottle, how much does it weigh? How much space does it take up? Where do we need to put it? And, if it fits in with this other trash. And then where on the vehicle do we need to put it for the whole mass center?” Yeah.

Host: Wow.

Elisca Hicks: It gets complicated. So.

Host: See, this but — doing this constantly on the International Space Station has to have informed a lot of how to live in space.

Mike Berrill: Oh absolutely.

Host: There’s so much to think about.

Elisca Hicks: Yes.

Host: Just brushing your teeth. Where does the toothpaste go?

Elisca Hicks: Yes.

Host: What about vacuuming? What can we, what have we learned? What are the primary things that we’re gathering right now so that we can get ready for Artemis and start doing this on the Moon when it comes to reliability when it comes to this is what’s required for Artemis mission?

Mike Berrill: Right. So, you know we’ve got a lot of great programs coming up with Artemis and the Moon and future and Mars. And, so the ISS has been a great way to prove all of these technologies and our processes to make sure that we’re ready for those types of things. Because, like I mentioned, you know, these other programs are going further and further away. So, we need to make sure they work well, efficiently, and so that we’re successful in those future missions.

Elisca Hicks: Yeah. Lots of discussions currently happening. We don’t have exact answers.

Mike Berrill: Right.

Elisca Hicks: For you probably right now, today.

Host: Yeah.

Elisca Hicks: But, yeah, definitely needs to be reliable and yeah. What are you going to do with your trash? Right?

Host: Yeah.

Elisca Hicks: So those are discussions that are currently in the works right now.

Host: Wow. So much to consider. This has been probably one of my favorite discussions that we’ve had.

Mike Berrill: Definitely. This is just so fun, just thinking about what can, what is life like on the space station? I feel like hygiene is just like, that’s life.

Mike Berrill: Right.

Elisca Hicks: It is.

Host: When I’m thinking about living at home, that’s how I was thinking about this podcast is like I was going through my own home.

Elisca Hicks: That’s great.

Host: Thinking like how do they do this in space?

Mike Berrill: Right?

Host: So, I appreciate the work that you’re doing.

Elisca Hicks: Thank you.

Host: And, working with the astronauts and making sure that we’re constantly learning. And, the fact that there’s crew preference involved, that’s just fascinating to me. I really appreciate both of your time.

Elisca Hicks: Thank you.

Mike Berrill: Thank you for having us. It’s always fun to discuss our work.

Host: Yeah, appreciate the time.

[ Music]

Host: Hey, thanks for sticking around. Really fun conversation we had with Elisca Hicks and Mike Berrill today on space hygiene. I hope if you had a question about space hygiene that it was answered on today’s podcast. If you do have a question, use the hashtag #AskNASA on your favorite platform whether Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram, we’re on the NASA Johnson Space Center pages of all of those. Use the hashtag #AskNASA to ask a question and just make sure to mention it’s for Houston We Have a Podcast. We can address it in a later episode. If you want to check out more NASA podcasts, we have a lot of them. Go to This episode was recorded on February 12th, 2020. Thanks to Alex Perryman, Pat Ryan, Norah Moran, Belinda Pulido, Jennifer Hernandez, and Kelly Humphries. Thanks again to Elisca Hicks and Mike Berrill for taking the time to come on the show. Give us a rating and feedback on whatever platform you’re listening to us on and tell us how we did. We’ll be back next week.