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Japanese astronaut testing 'odor-free' clothes

Astronauts aboard the space station may notice something a little strange about their new crewmate Koichi Wakata, a Japanese astronaut who arrives today to begin his new job as a station flight engineer: He doesn't change his clothes too much.
Image: Space clothes
Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency  astronaut Takao Doi, STS-123 mission specialist, exercises on a bicycle ergometer on the middeck of the Space Shuttle Endeavour. JAXA astronaut Koichi Wakata will be testing the clothes shown on Doi during the current mission to the space station. NASA
/ Source: Discovery Channel

Astronauts aboard the international space station may notice something a little strange about their new crewmate Koichi Wakata, a Japanese astronaut who arrives today to begin his new job as a station flight engineer.

He doesn't change his clothes too much.

That might be a problem in a closed environment like the space station, where you never open a window for fresh air. With three people confined to the same space, it's generally a smart idea to maintain good grooming habits.

Wakata, 48, is not advocating slovenliness. He's testing a new line of clothing developed for the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency that is literally threaded with anti-bacterial and deodorizing materials.

"He can wear his trunks (underwear) more than a week," Koji Yanagawa, director of JAXA's Human Space Technology and Astronaut Department, told Discovery News.

The clothes, developed by Yoshiko Taya and colleagues at the Japan Women's University in Tokyo, were tested by JAXA astronauts during two previous shuttle missions and won rave reviews. In addition to odor control, the clothes are designed to absorb water, insulate the body and dry quickly. They also are flame-resistant and anti-static — as well as comfortable and attractive.

Takao Doi, who flew with a shuttle crew last year to deliver Japan's Kibo laboratory to the station, exercised as much as his crewmates, but his clothes stayed dry.

"The other astronauts become very sweaty, but he doesn't have any sweat. He didn't need to hang his clothes to dry," Yanagawa said.

Because it is expensive to fly cargo to the station and without enough water to wash clothes, astronauts typically discard their garments worn during exercise after three days. One enterprising astronaut used his old underwear to sprout seeds.

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Wakata's clothes include long- and short-sleeved shirts, pants, shorts and underwear. There are socks too, which in addition to being laced with odor-fighting polymers, are constructed so that there is a pouch for the big toes, similar to how a mitten fits a thumb. The design enables astronauts to use their feet like an extra pair of hands.

Taya is working with clothing manufacturers Toray Industries and Goldwin Inc. on a commercial line that integrates a nano-thick chemical layer into the materials.

"Many of the properties required for clothing worn by astronauts on board a spacecraft can be applied to ordinary clothes," Taya said in a statement.

For now, the space clothes are only available to JAXA's astronauts.

"Someday when we're all finished with development we will supply them to the other partners," Yanagawa said.

Wakata is the first Japanese astronaut to live on the station, a $100 billion project of 16 nations. Beginning in May, the number of live-aboard residents is scheduled to double from three to six.