LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:
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.
(SOUNDBITE OF KIASMOS'S "BLURRED [BONOBO REMIX]")
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.