Influencers In Space: Astronauts Prepare To Receive Cosmetics And A New Toilet

Oct 11, 2020
Originally published on October 11, 2020 7:52 am

Hygiene and self care are vital — even in zero gravity. Which is why astronauts on the International Space Station are preparing for a fun delivery: a skincare serum from the cosmetics maker Estée Lauder, as well as a new and improved toilet.

Astronauts won't actually be using the brand's Advanced Night Repair Synchronized Multi-Recovery Complex, says Robyn Gatens, the acting director of the International Space Station. Instead, the plan is for them to take photos and video in space of the $105 per bottle serum that the company will then be able to use for advertisements across its social media channels. According to ABC News, it will cost Estée Lauder $17,500 per hour.

Estée Lauder will auction off at least one of the 10 bottles they're flying into space for charity, Gatens said in an interview with NPR's Weekend Edition Sunday.

Even if the astronauts wanted to record themselves using the product — a la the Get Ready With Me videos that many an influencer has posted to YouTube to show off their beauty routines — they wouldn't be able to. As government employees, they're restricted from participating in sponsoring products.

That doesn't mean they're strangers to commercial and marketing activities — something NASA has set aside 90 hours of crew time for. In 2019, for example, DoubleTree by Hilton sent their chocolate chip cookies up to the Space Station to be the first food baked in space.

Gatens said NASA is hoping this kind of commercial activity will "open up business opportunities for companies that may never have thought about doing activities in space."

Eventually, the International Space Station will have to be retired, and NASA hopes to use a prospective private space station in the future as a base in lower Earth orbit.

"We will be a customer, but we need other customers to be able to purchase services on those commercial platforms other than NASA to support their operation," she said. "Through the Space Station today we're enabling activities such as this to allow companies to try out performing commercial activities on the Space Station and see if there are businesses that can be enabled."

One thing NASA won't be returning, though, are two new toilets. Gatens said the toilets — which cost $23 million together — have special hardware designed to work in microgravity. One will be flown in the Orion spacecraft for the Artemis 2 mission, and the other is heading to the International Space Station.

"It's very different from a toilet you would go buy at Home Depot and install in your home," Gatens said, adding that it's significantly smaller and lighter than what astronauts are used to in space.

"It also uses fewer wipes and what we call consumables, things that we have to replenish. It is more ergonomic, and works better for the females."

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A couple of items recently sent up to the International Space Station caught our eye. One, a new and improved toilet for the astronauts. That's handy. And another, a grooming product - some Estee Lauder advanced night repair. Yes, you should not forget to moisturize even in zero gravity. Joining us to talk about astronaut hygiene is the acting director of the International Space Station, Robyn Gatens. Welcome to the program.

ROBYN GATENS: Hi, Lulu. Thank you.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So let's start with the toilet, of course. It cost $23 million dollars?

GATENS: It cost $23 million for two toilets. One toilet is going to be flying on our Orion spacecraft, on our Artemis missions to the moon. And the second toilet that just launched is going to the International Space Station.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I've also read that it's smaller and better accommodates female astronauts.

GATENS: It does. It's 2/3 smaller and works better for the females. The seat and the funnel can be used simultaneously. So there's a seat for one part of your business and a funnel for your other part of your business.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I'm assuming the male astronauts still have to remember to put the seat down.

GATENS: (Laughter) Correct.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: All right. Onto those bottles of Estee Lauder. As I understand it, the astronauts will film themselves, and Estee Lauder will use the footage on social media?

GATENS: Not quite. What our astronauts are going to do are take some images of the product against the backdrop of our cupola, which is our window compartment on the space station, and Estee Lauder plans to use those images for some social media.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So Phil McAlister, director of commercial space flight development at NASA, said astronauts will be spending now about 5% of their time on commercial and marketing activities. Can you explain a little bit about that? I mean, are we expecting to see other products in space?

GATENS: We set aside this small percentage to enable new activities for businesses to try to enable commercial markets on space station. We also are enabling private astronaut missions that will hopefully begin to the space station starting next year, so private citizens can - will be able to fly to the space station, maybe enabling the tourism market.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So I guess what comes to mind is that we've already heard about the privatization of space, and I guess this is the next step, which is the commercialization of space. And it seems a little bit far away from the right stuff ethos, I guess.

GATENS: Well, we're doing - still doing the right stuff things - extravehicular activities and spacewalks and those crews that are also going to be heading out to the moon and to Mars. But we are trying to open up and enable a commercial economy in low Earth orbit so that more companies, more citizens can use platforms like this in the future and that the government can be one of many customers in this economy.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I guess my last question is, is anyone going to be able to keep some of that Estee Lauder stuff (laughter)?

GATENS: Yes. Estee Lauder is actually going to be returning the product and is committed to auctioning off at least one bottle and donating the proceeds to charity.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's Robyn Gatens. She is the acting director of the International Space Station. Thank you very much.

GATENS: Thank you.

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