Space and all its weird problems! An average human being cannot even begin to comprehend all the incredible challenges the astronauts face out there. And one of the seemingly minuscule yet irritating and distracting problem would be catering an itch! With all the heavy suits which are required for their survival, how would the astronauts scratch a pesky itch out?
Surely they can’t use their hands, which presents quite a conundrum. When a retired astronaut Clayton Anderson was asked this question, he explained,
“You shake, rattle and roll, baby! That’s the only thing really that you can do to alleviate that itch. Hopefully, between the incredibly bulky and stiff suit itself and the liquid cooling garment you are wearing beneath the suit, you can wiggle your body enough to effectively scratch that itch!”
So itches on the body are at the mercy of the suit and its internal intricacies. What about an itch on the face? A reflex action would be to immediately bump your hand over the thick glass of the spacesuit. But astronauts, with all their genius and creativity, do find a way to improvise and relieve themselves. For example, they use the microphone attached in front of their mouth as a scratching post. But this also leads to some problems, like moving the microphone out of position thus reducing the sound quality in communications.
Astronauts also employ the Valsalva device for all their itchy needs. This is a foam piece attached to the bottom interior of the spacesuit helmet, used to allow and help an astronaut in blocking up their nostrils and blowing to equalise pressure in the ears. But more than that, astronauts use it as a handy device for scratching an itch.
A strategically placed piece of Velcro can also be used for the itch, which was particularly used during the Apollo missions. The Velcro is usually placed on the little feed port flap and held closed via the pressure in the suit when out in the vacuum.
It is only natural that during the five to eight hours of the spacewalk, astronauts start to feel the itch. But usually, the astronauts are so preoccupied with their missions and countering larger issues such as moving around in near vacuum that they totally forget about the itch. They also are exerting complete focus and concentration to make the mission successful while getting overwhelmed by the beautiful view of the space. Thus, a tiny little itch is usually the last thing on their minds.
The video below elaborates this further!
Have any other ideas on how an astronaut can counter an itch? Comment below!