Technology for the Journey To Mars – Laundry

In this series of posts we are going to take a look at some of the technology that will need to be developed so that we can make the trip to Mars.

Today we are going to take a look a something that may not be so obvious but for a 18-24 month round trip will become important and would save on the amount of supplies needed.  We have seen this question asked many times but on the International Space Station (ISS) it isn’t something that they worry about.

Today we will look at Laundry, something that we probably take for granted yet when we don’t have access to it people notice rather quickly.  On the ISS they take care of used articles of clothing by placing them in the cargo vehicles that are due to burn up in the atmosphere and have a regular supply of new clothes.  While this works for the ISS it isn’t as practical for a trip to Mars where there is no regular re-supply option and therefore you either have to keep enough clothing on board for the crew to use over the time of the trip or need to provide them a way to clean the clothes.

A Smithsonian article from 2011 said that a crew of six uses approximately 900 pounds of clothes a year.  As we are looking at 18-24m that would be between 1350-1800 pounds.  For our calculations we are going to use a Falcon 9 v1.1 rocket to launch the cargo which would give a rate of between $2.51m-$3.35m to launch all the clothes to orbit.

Additionally we are going to need to have space on the vehicle that travels to Mars to store all these clothes, it is difficult to put a price at present on this as we don’t have a vehicle available.

In 2011 NASA commissioned UMPQUA Research Company to build a prototype machine that could operate in space using jets of water, air and microwaves to wash clothes. A phase one study was completed that showed the technology could be used, however we have not been able to find any further research that was done.  A phase two study was mentioned but doesn’t appear to have been done.

To determine if a washing machine would be more beneficial on a trip we would need to answer the following questions:-

  1. How much space would the machine require?
  2. How much water, power, air would the machine use?
  3. How much would the machine cost?
  4. How much maintenance would the machine need?
  5. How many spare parts should be included?

In summary it is difficult to say which is the better option at present take all the clothes you need for the whole trip or take a machine which would reduce the amount of clothes but could present other challenges for the crew and may end up taking as much or more space on the vehicle.

We would love to hear you comments on this subject and any ideas you have for handling the issue.