In space, washing your hair can be a, well, hair-raising adventure, and one NASA astronaut has the video to prove it.
The new video of zero-gravity hair washing was recorded by American astronaut Karen Nyberg, one of six space travelers now living on the International Space Station. She posted it on YouTube and Twitter Tuesday (July 9), in what is the latest astronaut video to show what it is like to live in space.
"I've had a lot of people ask me how I wash my hair in space, and I thought I'd show you how I do it," Nyberg, how has longish hair, explained in the video, as her locks floated around her. [Photos: Astronaut Karen Nyberg's Space Pictures]
On Earth, washing your hair is a simple act of standing under a shower and lathering shampoo on your melon. But there's no shower on the space station, and even if there were the water wouldn't fall down — it would spray everywhere in weightless blobs.
According to Nyberg, there are some must-have tools she relies on to wash her hair: a small pouch of warm water, a bottle of no-rinse shampoo, a towel and a comb.
"What I like to do is start by putting some hot water, squirting it onto my scalp. And I have a mirror so I can kind of watch what I'm doing," Nyberg said as a few blobs of water floated away. "Sometimes the water gets away from you and you try and catch as much as you can. Then I just work the water up through to the ends of my hair."
It sounds simple, but in the video Nyberg is careful to keep her hair in a manageable position, combing it out above her head until it looks like it's standing straight up — a 'do that would defy gravity on Earth. Then it's time for shampoo, which Nyberg adds to her hair just like the water, from the scalp up.
"Sometimes I'll take my comb and help work it all the way to the ends. Then I like to take my towel while I have the shampoo in there and work it," Nyberg said while demonstrating the technique. "Because without standing under running water, you kind of need to use the towel a little bit to help get some of the dirt out."
After that, Nyberg adds a bit more water — she's found that a touch more water helps, despite the no-rinse part of her no-rinse shampoo.
"It actually feels kind of squeaky clean right now," Nyberg said. The same towel used to work the shampoo into her hair can be used to dry it in order to conserve precious supplies, Nyberg added.
Then, it's time for space age tech to kick in.
"And now as my hair dries, as the water evaporates from my hair, it will become humidity in the air, and our air conditioning system will collect that into condensate," Nyberg said. "It won't be long and our water processing system will turn that into drinking water."
One last run through with a comb ensures no snags or snarls, she added.
"While it dries, I just let it stay free. I don't put it back into a ponytail while it's drying," Nyberg said. "And that is how I wash my hair in space on the International Space Station."
Astronaut Karen Nyberg is a flight engineer on the Expedition 36 crew living aboard the space station. She launched into space in late May and will spend nearly half a year in orbit before returning to Earth in November.
Nyberg's hair-washing demonstration is the latest in a series of astronaut video how-to guides for life in space. Earlier this year, Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield recorded several video demonstrations of daily life in orbit, including how to make a peanut butter sandwich in space, how to brush your teeth, and how to wash your hands.
The International Space Station is currently home to a crew of astronauts and cosmonauts representing the United States, Russia and Europe. In addition to Nyberg, the crew includes American Chris Cassidy, Italian astronaut Luca Parmitano of the European Space Agency, and Russian cosmonauts Alexader Misurkin, Pavel Vinogradov and Fyodor Yurchikhin.
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Tariq is the Editor-in-Chief of Space.com and joined the team in 2001, first as an intern and staff writer, and later as an editor. He covers human spaceflight, exploration and space science, as well as skywatching and entertainment. He became Space.com's Managing Editor in 2009 and Editor-in-Chief in 2019. Before joining Space.com, Tariq was a staff reporter for The Los Angeles Times covering education and city beats in La Habra, Fullerton and Huntington Beach. In October 2022, Tariq received the Harry Kolcum Award for excellence in space reporting from the National Space Club Florida Committee. He is also an Eagle Scout (yes, he has the Space Exploration merit badge) and went to Space Camp four times as a kid and a fifth time as an adult. He has journalism degrees from the University of Southern California and New York University. You can find Tariq at Space.com and as the co-host to the This Week In Space podcast with space historian Rod Pyle on the TWiT network. To see his latest project, you can follow Tariq on Twitter @tariqjmalik.