For humans to live on Mars, we'd need to figure out shelter, air, water and food. But what about laundry? NASA and Procter & Gamble, owner of the Tide laundry brand, are working together to figure it out.
"Tide has signed a Space Act Agreement with NASA to help in the development of laundry detergent solutions and technology development in space," P&G said in a statement on Tuesday. "Under the agreement, NASA may test and study Tide cleaning solutions in space."
Before we get to laundromats on Mars, NASA and Tide are going to try some experiments up on the International Space Station. There are no washing machines on the ISS. Currently, astronauts wear a piece of clothing until it gets dirty and then throw it out. Regular resupply missions keep astronauts stocked with clean clothes, but that won't be a great option for further-flung destinations like Mars.
P&G is looking to address issues with limited water, ingredient safety and compatibility with life support systems. For example, liquids (including urine) on the ISS are recycled into usable water.
"Tide has developed a fully degradable detergent, specifically designed for use in space to solve malodor, cleanliness and stain removal problems for washable items used during deep space missions, while being suitable for use in a close-loop water system," said P&G.
P&G is gearing up for some 2022 experiments on the ISS that will involve testing the stability of cleaning and stain removal ingredients in ISS conditions. The company is also looking into developing a combination washer-dryer that could be used for NASA Artemis moon missions and future Mars missions where low gravity will be an issue.
NASA and P&G aren't the only ones trying to solve the clean-clothes problem. The European Space Agency is investigating antimicrobial textiles for use in spacesuit undergarments.
Any solutions NASA and P&G discover could also end up being helpful back on Earth, where certain parts of the globe are facing water shortages. If you can get clothes clean in orbit, on the moon or on Mars using very little water and energy, then that would also be a hit back on Tide's home planet.