for National Geographic News
When NASA's space shuttle Discovery lifts off, currently planned for March 2009, it will carry the first Japanese astronaut to make an extended stay aboard the International Space Station.
As part of his mission, former airplane engineer Koichi Wakata, 45, has volunteered to be a human guinea pig—downing pills, wiring himself with sensors, and recording how smelly his underwear gets—all in the name of science.
The results of Wakata's three-month visit could help solve some of the medical and practical problems of space living.
There are no washing machines in outer space, so astronauts take a full supply of outfits, wear them as long as possible, and bring them back to Earth in hermetically sealed bags.
Wakata will need 45 pairs of underwear—enough for a change every other day—during his three-month tour. Each of his T-shirts must last a week.
To supplement his NASA-issued togs, Wakata will also bring seven days' worth of clothes developed by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), Japan Women's University, and five Japanese companies.
The additional clothes are completely seamless to reduce skin irritation and are tailored to match the natural position of the body in a weightless environment—semi-sitting, with the neck tilted slightly forward and the arms floating away from the body.
The outfits also use anti-static Velcro to prevent sparks that could damage electrical equipment.
Perhaps most important, the threads contain antibacterial material.
"According to our experiments, the underwear can be worn for three days without any bacterial growth," said Megumi Ogawa of JAXA's Space Biomedical Research Office.
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