Flown personal hygiene kits
Whilst not an issue on the short-duration Mercury flights, personal hygiene became important on the longer-duration Gemini flights. The personal hygiene kits on the Gemini and Apollo missions included oral hygiene items, razors and shaving cream, and combs. These everyday items show the human side of the space program and flown examples can fetch significant sums at auction.
Oral Hygiene - Toothbrushes, toothpaste, dental gum etc.
On the earliest long duration flights, the issue of dental hygiene was dealt with using a combination of dry brushing and dental gum. NASA then developed a foamless ingestible toothpaste (marketed as NASAdent) which was in use by the time of the Apollo 10 mission.
Top: John Young's Gemini 10 Py-co-pay toothbrush
Although there is no record of which brand of toothbrush was flown on which mission, examples sold at auction seem to indicate a progression through three different brands over time :
For obvious reasons, each crewmember used a different colored toothbrush, with the following color-coding being used on the Apollo missions : red/orange for the Commander, blue for the Lunar Module Pilot, and white for the Command Module Pilot.
This is the same color coding scheme that was used to identify the meals (and some other items) carried on the Apollo missions, with different colored velcro squares attached for each crew member.
Whilst the Apollo Stowage Lists make no mention of the oral hygiene equipment carried by the crews, the Apollo 11 Press Kit states "Packaged with the food are a toothbrush and a two-ounce tube of toothpaste for each crewman." A later entry in the same Press Kit details an 'Oral Hygiene Kit' containing 3 toothbrushes, 1 edible toothpaste and 1 dental floss.
The single toothpaste tube mentioned here contradicts the earlier statement regarding one tube of toothpaste for each crewman, but it seems that in fact only one tube was provided in total as the Apollo 15 crew debriefing mentions that Al Worden was left with the only tube of toothpaste on that mission so none was taken to the lunar surface. Scott apparently still took his toothbrush to the surface but Irwin did not bother (although his toothbrush was listed as LM-flown in the Odyssey 1994 sale).
On the Apollo 16 technical debriefing mentioned one problem with the toothpaste, which was that having been packed in 14 psi (regular sea-level atmospheric air pressure) the toothpaste had a tendancy to pour out of the tube as soon as it was opened. As Ken Mattingly put it, "The first time I opened it we could have brushed the teeth on an elephant".
FLOWN availability - A number of flown toothbrushes have been sold by the astronauts over the years with the most famous example probably being Buzz Aldrin's Apollo 11 lunar-flown Lactona toothbrush which sold for $18,400 in 2004. The only examples of flown toothpaste or dental floss I've seen offered for sale were Conrad's from Apollo 12, offered at an early Odyssey auction.
Unflown availability - The toothbrushes used by NASA were unmodified commercial versions without any NASA part or serial number stamps thus NASA examples for evaluation or training use would be identifiable only by their packaging. Vintage non-NASA examples are probably relatively easy to acquire.
Shaving Utensils - Razors and shaving cream
Mike Collins' Apollo 11 razor & shaving cream, part of the NASM collection
The first long duration Gemini spaceflights brought the issue of shaving in space to the fore. The main concern was to ensure that loose whiskers would not end up floating into critical flight instrumentation, but early experiments with electric shavers fitted with simple vacuum attachments were a failure.
Still frame from Apollo 11 16mm onboard film
On Gemini through Apollo, the crews were issued with safety razors but these apparently went unused until the flight of Apollo 10.
Despite the original concerns it was found that using brushless shaving cream and safety razors there was actually no problem with loose whiskers. The process of shaving was still far from easy - most crews reported that the razors quickly became clogged with used shaving cream and whiskers and were almost impossible to clean out in the absence of running water.
The safety razors and brushless shaving creams used by the astronauts were regular commercial products and the crews were apparently free to choose the brand they wanted to carry with them on a particular flight.
The Apollo Stowage Lists make no mention of the shaving equipment carried by the crews, but we do know that Apollo 11 Command Module Pilot Mike Collins used a Gillette Techmatic safety razor and Old Spice brushless shaving cream on that flight as these are part of the Smithsonian collection. We also know that a tube of K-34 Gillette brushless shave cream was used by the crew of Apollo 12, as this was given by them to Support Crew member Paul Weitz as a momento after the flight. On Apollo 13 we know that they used a shaving cream by Mennen, as this is mentioned in the technical debriefing.
Although safety razors were found to work reasonably well in a weightless environment the evaluation of mechanical razors for use in space continued. These efforts led to the adoption of a wind-up mechanical design made from acrylic which was used for the first time on Apollo 14 with reasonable success.
On Apollo 16 Ken Mattingly used a mechanical razor and found it worked well if used frequently. If used on two day old stubble however, he reported that it felt like the whiskers were being pulled out rather than cut. His crewmates apparently used Wilkinson 'bonded blade' safety razors when they had to shave, but found the same problem with clogging blades as earlier crews.
Despite the difficulties, which led many astronauts to let their beards grow for at least part of the missions, most reported that it felt very refreshing when they did manage to shave.
FLOWN availability - The only Apollo-flown shaving utensils I've seen sold to-date are those sold in 2009 at a Heritage Space Auction.
Unflown availability - The razors used by NASA were unmodified commercial models without any NASA part or serial number stamps. Vintage Gillette Techmatic razors and Wilkinson bonded blade safety razors identical to those used on some Apollo missions are readily available on eBay.
Charlie Duke's Apollo 16 flown comb
The Apollo Stowage Lists make no mention of the combs carried by the crews, but it seems likely that most, if not all of the crew members did carry them.
We know from examples sold at auction that on the Apollo 7 and Apollo 12 missions the astronauts carried 5" long aluminum combs by Goody and that on Apollo 16, the astronauts carried 5 1/8" metal combs by Swedish Crown. On Skylab the astronauts used aluminum combs by VER-LIN.
FLOWN availability - Several combs flown on the Apollo missions have come to market, as shown in the Annex below.
Unflown availability - The combs used by NASA astronauts were regular commercial models so unflown examples are unlikely to be of any great interest to collectors.
Annex A: Flown toothbrushes & dental floss sold at auction or identified in private or museum collections
Annex B: Flown shaving utensils sold at auction or identified in private or museum collections
Annex C: Flown combs sold at auction or identified in private or museum collections
Annex D: Other flown personal hygiene items sold at auction or identified in private or museum collections
|Footnotes : |
 A pair of Py-co-pay toothbrushes sold at Regency-Superior Fall 2013 auction, October 3, 2013 (
lot 94) were in NASA packaging with part no. 14-0115, bearing
inspection stamps of 1-17-67. The date implies they were prepared for the Apollo 1 mission, possibly as flight spares.
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