A safe-to-swallow oral care product developed by a Japanese startup and manufactured by mentally disabled people has been selected as a candidate for use by astronauts at the International Space Station.
The product chosen through an open recruitment process is a mint-flavored oral care spray made by workers employed by a nonprofit organization in Niigata Prefecture.
Whether it makes the ISS journey or not will be decided possibly in June based on a comprehensive assessment of safety and other factors. According to the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, if approved, it will be transported to the station around 2022.
The spray was developed by Trife Inc., a startup based in Yokohama that develops its range of OralPeace products. The plant-based products help contain oral bacteria, prevent cavities and improve the astronauts’ health, the company said.
So far, Japanese astronauts have spoken highly of the spray in a survey, calling it “refreshing.”
Yoshimi Honda, head of the Niigata nonprofit organization Aozora, welcomed the good news.
“They are gaining confidence by being recognized and receiving positive feedback through their work,” Honda said, referring to the 10 workers with disabilities who are based in a workshop in Agano, Niigata Prefecture.
OralPeace products, which are developed with Kyushu University’s graduate school of agriculture and other entities, do not require water for rinsing.
As such, they are ideal for people aboard the ISS, where water is very precious, as conventional toothpaste could be harmful over the long term if constantly swallowed, according to the developer.
Trife President Daisuke Teshima said the spray, which requires just one squirt from the container to clean the entire mouth, will be very convenient for astronauts occupied with numerous experiments and activities.
OralPeace products were distributed free of charge to people affected by the major earthquakes in Kumamoto Prefecture, in 2016, and Typhoon Faxai, in 2019, as part of the company’s support for disaster-hit areas.
Since 2014, Trife has entrusted the manufacturing of the OralPeace spray to the Niigata organization as part of efforts to raise the wages of people with disabilities.
The workers’ duties include sanitizing the spray solution at a temperature of 85 degrees Celsius, making sure foreign objects are not mixed into containers, and assembling boxes. With the help of Aozora officials, they manufacture about 10,000 units of oral care spray a year.
Disabled workers are assigned to different sections depending on their disability, which can in fact be a strength in the workplace, according to the organization.
“They can meticulously check the cleanliness of containers. They require more time, but I find it easy to count on them,” Honda said.
When they heard the news that OralPeace had been selected as a candidate for use in the space station, some of the workers jumped up in the air in celebration, Honda said.
“I am really happy because when I saw merchandise that went to space on TV, I wanted to do the same,” said Towa Yokono, a 22-year-old box assembler. “Our work is finally being recognized.”
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