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Astronaughty Bits

The European Space Agency appears to be preoccupied with what goes on in astronauts' nethers — and they've commissioned a study dedicated to fighting microbial stank.

In a press release about the effort, the ESA pointed to an Austria-led project intent on keeping the insides of moonsuits healthy for the upcoming Artemis missions, which plan to see European and American astronauts return to the Moon for the first time in half a century.

Part of a larger ESA project known as Planetary Exploration Textiles (PExTEx), the Austrian Space Forum is taking charge of an endeavor it's termed Biocidal Advanced Coating Technology for Reducing Microbial Activity, or BACTeRMA, that will tackle inner-suit hygiene in the extreme conditions of a spaceship.

"Think about keeping your underwear clean; it’s an easy enough job on a daily basis, thanks to detergent, washing machines and dryers," said ESA materials and processes engineer Malgorzata Holynska in the release. "But in habitats on the Moon or beyond, washing spacesuit interiors on a consistent basis may well not be practical."

The difficulty of washing spacesuit interiors — and the grossness that can accompany the problem — is compounded by the likelihood that suits will be shared among astronauts, too.

Under Wear

While there are traditional anti-microbial agents like silver and copper, ESA notes that outfitting the inside of spacesuits with such materials could irritate astronauts' skin, and regular wear could tarnish them.

To tackle the conundrum, the scientists working on BACTeRMA are looking into chemical compounds known as "secondary metabolites," which microbes produce while trying to protect themselves. These colorful compounds "often have antibiotic qualities," the statement notes.

The Austrian scientists on the BACTeRMA team are working with the Vienna Textile Lab firm to create what they're calling a "bacteriographic" collection of so-called "biocidal" materials that are being tested against radiation, moondust, and simulations of human sweat to see how they fare.

Currently, the Austrian Space Forum is testing its prototypical biocidal textiles in a spacesuit simulator, and it may soon be deployed in a simulated Mars mission that's set to take place next year in Armenia, the statement adds.

Issues surrounding space hygiene are nothing new, but this approach sounds like it could help keep things fresh aboard crewed Artemis missions, which will see astronauts dealing with spaceship climates for about a month — a trip that doesn't seem that long unless you consider how gross it would be to go to that long without clean underwear.

More on Artemis: NASA's Moon Spacesuits Are Brain-Meltingly Expensive

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