How Astronauts Keep the ISS from Becoming a Revolting Orbital Stink Bomb

In space, no one can hear you clean.

Astronauts might be able to escape Earth's gravity, but they can't escape their household chores. That's why the crew of the International Space Station (ISS) sets aside some time every Saturday to make sure that their orbital habitat is spick and span.

This week, British astronaut Tim Peake shared a video of himself spinning through the chore wheel, complete with wipe-downs of equipment and some vacuuming in space (not to be confused with the actual vacuum of space, of course).

Saturday orbital tidyup. Video: European Space Agency, ESA/YouTube

This isn't the first time the ISS's adaptive vacuum cleaner, specialized for the microgravity environment, has been the star of an astronaut's YouTube exploits. In 2012, NASA astronaut Don Pettit straight-up played the station's vacuum cleaner like a didgeridoo as part of a memorable lesson about sound waves in space.

Pettit being Pettit. Video: Physics Central/YouTube

Peake may be using the vacuum for more traditional purposes, but this strict cleaning regimen is every bit as important as the occasional microgravity jam sesh. By the end of its tenure in space, the Russian Mir space station was plagued by fungus, mould, and bacteria, demonstrating how easily microbial lifeforms can gain an edge in space.

So while the ISS may not be as fragrant as spring chrysanthemums—indeed, astronaut Scott Kelly said it smells more "antiseptic" or like "garbage" in a recent reddit AMA—the crew's chore schedule ensures that it is, at the very least, not a total orbital stinkbomb.