Russia Has Designs On Its Astronauts' Used Underwear

December 09, 1998

ONE of space travel's most pressing but least known problems-what to do with dirty underwear-could soon be solved. Russian scientists are designing a cocktail of bacteria to digest astronauts' cotton and paper underpants. The resulting methane gas could be used to power spacecraft, they claim.

"This will be a revolution in the science of biodegradation," says Vyacheslav Ilyin, project director and head of the microbial ecology laboratory at the Russian State Research Centre's Institute for Biological and Medical Problems in Moscow.

The disposal unit will be able to process plastic, cellulose and other organic waste aboard a spacecraft. "Cosmonauts identify waste as one of the most acute problems they encounter in space," says Ilyin. Each astronaut produces an average of 2.5 kilograms-or up to 9 litres-of uncompressed waste a day. To keep waste to a minimum, they are forced to wear underwear for up to a week at a time. Onboard laundry facilities are rare in space, although the Russian space station Mir does contain a shower.

Aboard Mir, waste is stored in sealed containers until a Progress supply module arrives with fresh supplies. Waste is then transferred to the module, which burns up and disintegrates as it re-enters the Earth's atmosphere. But Progress modules only call about twice a year. Meanwhile, stored waste builds up on the station, taking up valuable space and posing a potential health threat to crew.

The search for the most suitable combination of microbes is expected to take up to a decade. Many of the strains are stored in national and international collections. The researchers aim to have the complete microbial disposal unit ready by 2017, when Russia hopes to launch its first crewed interplanetary mission, possibly to Mars.
Please mention New Scientist as the source of this story - Thank you.

UK CONTACT - Claire Bowles, New Scientist Press Office, London:
Tel: 44-171-331-2751 or email
US CONTACT - Barbara Thurlow, New Scientist Washington office:
Tel: 202-452-1178 or email

New Scientist

Related Microbes Articles from Brightsurf:

A new look at deep-sea microbes
Microbes found deeper in the ocean are believed to have slow population turnover rates and low amounts of available energy.

Microbes might manage your cholesterol
Researchers discover a link between human blood cholesterol levels and a gene in the microbiome that could one day help people manage their cholesterol through diet, probiotics, or entirely new types of treatment.

Can your gut microbes tell you how old you really are?
Harvard longevity researchers in collaboration with Insilico Medicine develop the first AI-powered microbiomic aging clock

What can be learned from the microbes on a turtle's shell?
Research published in the journal Microbiology has found that a unique type of algae, usually only seen on the shells of turtles, affects the surrounding microbial communities.

Life, liberty -- and access to microbes?
Poverty increases the risk for numerous diseases by limiting people's access to healthy food, environments and stress-free conditions.

Rye is healthy, thanks to an interplay of microbes
Eating rye comes with a variety of health benefits. A new study from the University of Eastern Finland now shows that both lactic acid bacteria and gut bacteria contribute to the health benefits of rye.

Gut microbes may affect the course of ALS
Researchers isolated a molecule that may be under-produced in the guts of patients.

Gut microbes associated with temperament traits in children
Scientists in the FinnBrain research project of the University of Turku discovered that the gut microbes of a 2.5-month-old infant are associated with the temperament traits manifested at six months of age.

Gut microbes eat our medication
Researchers have discovered one of the first concrete examples of how the microbiome can interfere with a drug's intended path through the body.

Microbes can grow on nitric oxide
Nitric oxide (NO) is a central molecule of the global nitrogen cycle.

Read More: Microbes News and Microbes Current Events is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to