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How To Wash That Space Right Out of Your Hair

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Contemplations about space bring up many deep questions. Is there life out there? Could we live on another planet? Can the solar system wag its tail? Will this seven-year-old make it to Mars?

And now this question: how do astronauts wash their hair?

Zero gravity’s awesome and everything, but it makes certain tasks pretty difficult. Karen Nyberg, a member of the Expedition 36 Crew aboard the International Space Station, demystifies the process behind maintaining hair hygiene in space.

After squirting some bagged water onto her head, she massages it in. This part might be easier in zero gravity, given that the hair’s roots are more accessible. Plus, she looks awesome with her mane sticking straight up.

space hair

Then she uses no-rinse shampoo. If you’ve never heard of such a product, it’s like the French shower of hair washing and is popular among gym-goers and other folks who want to kind of clean their hair on the go. It comes in liquid, powder, or spray form and attaches to the oil in hair. Some people on Earth apparently enjoy debating the pros and cons of no-rinse shampoo, but they don’t mention what seems to me to be a major perk: if you use this stuff in space, you can wash your hair with all your clothes on and stay dry.

Nyberg’s clearly perfected the routine. Just check her out with that comb! She gets her hair “squeaky clean.” One of the coolest details is that as her hair dries and the water evaporates from it, it will contribute to the ambient humidity which then gets sucked into the air conditioning system, then funneled to the water processing system and eventually turned into drinking water. Sounds a lot better than drinking one’s urine, doesn’t it?

How-to space videos have skyrocketed (ha ha) in popularity thanks to ISS Commander Chris Hadfield’s video series. He showed people how to shave, clip their fingernails, eat dessert, sing, sleep, and wring out a wash cloth, which we can now recognize as the same water Nyberg uses to wash her hair and, later, to drink.

Hadfield also sheds light on the question inquiring minds really want answered: how to throw up in space. Let’s hope that doesn’t get sucked into the air conditioning system.

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