If you thought washing your hair at summer camp was difficult, with freezing two-minute showers, imagine having to shampoo in a place that makes your hair literally stand on end. NASA astronaut Karen Nyberg manages to keep her long golden tresses clean aboard the International Space Station with a special routine:
Nyberg’s hair-washing regimen involves a bag of warm water, a bottle of no-rinse shampoo -- originally developed for hospital patients that couldn’t shower, NASA says -- a towel and a comb. She squirts water onto her scalp and works it up to the ends of her hair. Then she applies the rinseless shampoo to her scalp, and works it from roots to tips with a comb.
“Then I like to take my towel while I have the shampoo in there and just kind of work it, because without standing under running water you kind of need to use the towel a little bit to help get some of the dirt out,” Nyberg explained in her video.
She follows up with a little more water -- even though it’s a “no-rinse” shampoo, she thinks it feels better. And because resources are scarce aboard the ISS, that shower water doesn’t just flow down the drain. Nyberg explains that as the water in her hair dries, it evaporates into the air, and the ISS’s air conditioning system will collect that moisture and recycle it into drinking water. Clearly, astronaut training involves recalibrating some of your assumptions about hygiene.
While brushing your teeth in space is mostly the same as doing it back on Earth, using the toilet is a bit more complicated. Space toilets throughout the couple decades of spaceflight history have combated the problem of trying to do business in zero-gravity with the same principle: suction. Astronauts have their own personal funnel to urinate into, and the liquid waste is sucked into the toilet through a tube. For once, going to the bathroom is easier for the women than the men -- a female astronaut’s funnel is cup-shaped and easily molds to her body when the toilet’s suction is activated. The men have to be a bit more careful when using their cone-shaped urine funnels -- it’s a delicate balance between getting the suction to suck up the right stuff and while keeping one’s anatomy free.
“We do not want men ‘docking,’” Scott Weinstein, a crew habitability trainer at NASA, said in a video about the trickiness of using the space toilet: