Wednesday, September 30, 2009


Back in November of 2008 the space walkers and repairers of things in space lost a tool kit into the big ether. I wrote about it in a blog, saying I didn’t like to think of myself as Chicken Little – “the sky is falling, the sky is falling” but - with the remote possibility that a wrench might come plummeting down and land somewhere close to me, I’d say, “I told you so.” Nevertheless at least it would be one less piece of space that shouldn’t be there.

Now I see a recent NASA remark about what appeared to be a comet’s tail on the rear end of the Discovery spaceship as it headed for home really was what I’ll euphemistically call a “space dump.” It was urine and they called it a “water dump.”

NASA puts it a little more scientifically: The light show Wednesday was aided by an unusually large amount of water being dumped all at once - about 150 pounds (68 kg), said NASA spokeswoman Kylie Clem. Discovery had just undocked from the International Space Station the day before, and had not been able to unload waste water during the 10-day visit. "It would have been a large quantity because we don't do water dumps while docked to the station now," Clem told in an e-mail. "That is a fairly new restriction over the last couple of flights in order to prevent potential contamination of the Kibo module." The Kibo module is a new Japanese-built research lab on the space station that includes an external platform to expose science experiments to the space environment. Water dumps from a docked shuttle could potentially pollute the experiments.

Now I’m smart enough to know that urine, unlike a wrench or hammer, is unlikely to land on my Chicken-Little head. But this leads up to what bothers me now:

A few weeks ago there was an article about some new space skivvies that were being tested by a Japanese astronaut who had been up in space for four months. Seems his job was to wear the same pair of skivvies for a month at a time without a change. The developer of the undies said they were a new type of anti-bacterial, water-absorbent, odor-eliminating underwear provided by Japanese researchers. The astronaut brought back the used undergarments for scientific analysis. "I haven't talked about this underwear to my crew members," the astronaut said. "But I wore them for about a month, and my station crew members never complained, so I think the experiment went fine."

I find this simply gross beyond words.

I can imagine if these male undies work, and if they are adopted by whoever decides what the space dress de rigueur is, they are NOT going to bring back all the month-old, month-worn skivvies and send them to the Laundromat for washing, nor can I imagine them putting them in zip-lock bags at Cape Canaveral or Edwards Air Force Base like so many used disposable diapers and sending them to the local dump. I have the feeling that each month when it is time to change undies, the astronauts will fling them out into space where it is assumed that they will be burned to a cinder.

Let me just state this for the record: In recorded and unrecorded history, people who threw things away thought nothing of future clutter. And look what a mess we’ve made of the earth today with things that are not recyclable or reclaimable. We have not been very careful with things we toss out. I’m afraid that same thing is going to happen in space: “Oops, there goes a wrench. Well, too bad, we’ll get another one.” “Oops, just lost the space sawhorse. Too bad, but it’ll burn up.” And I can just hear it, “OK, men, this is the day we send Month One’s skivvies out into space. Make sure you toss your old pair out before the end of the day.”

You know Chicken Little? The sky is falling? How ‘bout a month-old pair of skivvies landing on your head?

Space may not be crowded now but at the rate we’re going, it may happen sooner than we think.

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