Google Doodle celebrates doctor who popularized hand-washing. Here’s how to wash your hands in space.

In light of the global COVID-19 outbreak, today’s #GoogleDoodle recognizes Dr. Ignaz Semmelweis, widely known as the first person to suggest the life-saving benefits of handwashing 👐💧Learn proper @WHO recommended handwashing techniques → 20, 2020

Washing your hands with soap and water is a critical measure to prevent the spread of viruses like the new coronavirus responsible for a global pandemic today, as well as bacteria that can make us sick. 

It is so important that today (March 20) Google honored Ignaz Semmelweis, the German-Hungarian physician and scientist who popularized how important hand-washing is in 1847 by demonstrating with his work that cleaning hands drastically reduced the number of deaths of women after childbirth.

Hand-washing is even important for astronauts in space. 

Video: How to wash your hands in space without gravity
The coronavirus pandemic and space exploration: Full coverage

But in the microgravity (or close to zero gravity) environment aboard the International Space Station, it’s not so easy to wash your hands. If you opened up a faucet and squirted soap onto your hands, those liquids would just go everywhere (and it’d make a real mess of things) because there isn’t any gravity to make them fall and splash down onto the ground. 

As part of a series of videos showing what life is like aboard the space station, Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield demonstrated how astronauts wash their hands in space. As Hadfield explains in the video, it’s “sort of like if you were on a sailboat and you needed to get clean you’d do it sort of the same way.”

First, he showed that astronauts wash their hands using a “no rinse body bath,” which comes in a pouch with a straw coming out of it. It’s “a special type of slightly soapy water so you don’t need to have a bunch of fresh water afterwards,” he said. 

As Hadfield showcased, astronauts squirt a little glob of the body bath into their hands. Now, if you squirted water or soap onto your hand on Earth, it would just leave whatever receptacle it was in, fall into your hand (and maybe drip onto the floor). But in space, the glob that squirts seems to almost “stick” to the pouch’s straw and then to Hadfield’s hand. 

Related: Chris Hadfield, social media’s space star

Once the glob of water is on their hands, sticking to the surface and strangely undulating in the palm, they simply rub their hands together as you would with soap and water here on Earth, and then grab a towel and dry off. A few droplets might fly off while the astronauts rub their hands together, but this process ensures that a minimal amount of water is let loose aboard the space station. 

After all is said and done, the astronauts tuck their towels somewhere so that they don’t float around; that’s “so that the evaporated water gets back into the space station and we can use that water again.” 

In space, astronauts have finite resources, so things we take for granted like water are extra valuable. This means that even the droplets collected on a towel from washing your hands are vital and can and should be reused. 

Follow Chelsea Gohd on Twitter @chelsea_gohd. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook.


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