Before the jokes start, a zero gravity washing machine is not just another government boondoggle. Spare a thought for the poor astronauts who often spend months at a time on the International Space Station (ISS). Given that space is at a premium and regular resupply is not an option, that's a lot of stinky socks and underwear.
NASA decided to commission a zero gravity washing machine to make the astronaut's lives a little more hygienic — not to mention more comfortable. They've contracted Oregon-based UMPQUA Research Company to create a prototype of a low power, low water usage machine.
UMPQUA has proposed a futuristic machine that would use jets of air and vapor along with microwave rays to clean clothes. They tout that not only does it get the job done — and microwaving your shorts is certainly one way to do it — but it also "greatly enhances softness."
Should the prototype become viable for installation and use, it will stop the current SOP of astronauts shooting their dirty laundry out in unmanned capsules to burn up in the atmosphere or using what we will gracefully call "pre-worn" underwear to grow plants in. At least we know they recycle.
The potential for this space age washing machine goes beyond the ISS as part of the brief was to create the machine to be functional in both a gravity and non-gravity environment. Submarines, research outposts and other spatially challenge locations could all use the "washing machine of the future."