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Set in the immediate future, mankind visits Titan, moon of Saturn for the first time. A manned space station goes into orbit around the moon once every 4-5 hours. Actually there have been many people being sent all over the solar system. Some missions are solo. Without FTL and artificial gravity why is nudity prohibited in space, at all times? There is no policy on possession of adult materials or even engage in intimate activity, just no nudity strictly!

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    $\begingroup$ Researching the basis of nudity prohibition in many countries should bear some fruit for you. $\endgroup$ – Bewilderer Feb 26 at 4:00
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    $\begingroup$ The question is based on a false premise. I have seen the documentary Barbarella and can attest to the fact that nudity is in fact not only legal but even encouraged! $\endgroup$ – pipe Feb 26 at 10:23
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    $\begingroup$ Duplicate of Nudism in space: Why wear clothes anyway? $\endgroup$ – Reinstate Monica - M. Schröder Feb 26 at 14:19
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    $\begingroup$ Too many dangling parts while working on machinery could be hazardous. $\endgroup$ – kikirex Feb 26 at 16:40
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    $\begingroup$ What does ‘nudity’ mean to you here? Would wearing a bracelet or a sock be enough to comply with the ban? Or a tank top? Underwear? Shorts? Or do you intend it as a requirement to be fully clothed (including at least long trousers and a long-sleeved top) at all times? If just wearing a bracelet would be enough to get around the ban, then the ban seems fairly meaningless and I can think of no reason to have it; if anything but fully clothed contravenes it, then (as StephenG’s answer says), the ban is unenforceable and impossible to implement in practice. $\endgroup$ – Janus Bahs Jacquet Feb 27 at 17:35

14 Answers 14

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Housecleaning in Zero-G

Think through the amount of body hair and skin flakes a human sheds each week. On Earth, you take a vacuum cleaner or a mop. Still, fluff collects in hard-to-reach places. No big deal, really.

The combination of zero-g and artificial life support systems makes fluff a greater problem in space. The solution? Almost-full-body clothing and hair nets are worn just about everywhere, except in the bathroom and at the doctor's office. Those places have heavy-duty air filters which are cleaned more frequently.

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Spacesuits are compulsory

The human body is ill suited for leaving the confines of Earth. Spacesuits serve a variety of necessary functions in order for humans to operate in space like temperature regulation, providing an air supply, protection from solar radiation, etc. Those living or travelling in space long term have to be prepared to enter hard vacuum at any moment to effect repairs or modifications on the external surface of the spacecraft. Even the stripped down "casual wear" astronauts might don when not on shift would have common sense features deemed absolutely necessary like life sign monitoring, communications, distress beacons, etc.

Therefore you can go starkers if you want...under your spacesuit

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    $\begingroup$ After a few decompression accidents killing a couple people, wearing a space suit whenever feasible might be a reasonable safety precaution. Especially when space suit technology got advanced enough that they are no longer as bulky as they are today. $\endgroup$ – Philipp Feb 26 at 10:26
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    $\begingroup$ This also covers for any situation where a spaceship or space station section depressurizes unexpectedly - meteoroid? No problem, just seal off the section with the leak. The people in there can go around the outside and reenter via the airlock, because they're already wearing spacesuits as legally required, right? $\endgroup$ – Skyler Feb 26 at 14:30
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    $\begingroup$ @Gryphon heat transfer would be one. Heat does not transfer in a vacuum, and this will cause electrical failures in extremely hard to fix places. Electronics designed to work in space are made very, very differently. $\endgroup$ – Nelson Feb 27 at 5:07
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    $\begingroup$ @Gryphon it would give you a second layer of defense against accidental depressurisation. A suit might tear or malfunction. In an unpressurized einvironment, that might be lethal. Another reason is sound transfer. When you are in a pressurized environment, you can hear when your reactor cooling system makes strange rattling noises. $\endgroup$ – Philipp Feb 27 at 10:09
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    $\begingroup$ The bodysuit is a pre-requisite for getting into your space suit in a hurry. $\endgroup$ – KalleMP Feb 27 at 19:37
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1 - We're icky

There is a hygienic dimension to clothing. As mammals, especially placental mammals, we're always secreting and shedding something -- sweat, oil, hair, dead skin, and many other substances that are unnecessary and inadvisable to list.

The areas we cover up are notorious for making right messes, and even the more acceptable areas may be suspect due to sweat. This is exacerbated in low or zero-g environments due to the fact that these particles are free to detach from the body, float and get everywhere.

The very best case scenario is that the whole station will start to smell like old sweat, which probably won't be a problem for people who have been in microgravity long enough for their noses to stop smelling as well.

Worst case...well, there's lots of things you really don't want getting on your computer interfaces. Or in your food. It could even be microscopic particles, and those are just yummy.

You could bathe and shave constantly, but that's a bit of a waste of station resources and you're better off just wearing material that can catch all the gross mammalian materials and wash those in bulk.

At the very least, you'd wear something to cover the pubic area and that would narrow the problems down to sweat and stray body or head hairs. Everyone would look like they're at a topless beach party, but it would be enough for the majority of human cultures to consider "clothed".

2 - Protection

Space is pretty dangerous. Here you are floating in a tin can, far above [ gravitational reference body ]. Anything can happen; your body can be exposed to raw sunlight, gamma radiation (gamma rays from malicious sources can have devastating effects on crew), or even open vacuum. The human body doesn't really care for any of these, and so an advanced bodysuit of some kind would be preferred.

Furthermore, navigating a microgravity habitat is a constant gymnastics show. Astronauts launch and throw themselves off surfaces and try to catch bars and top themselves on other surfaces. If you miss, you're likely to collide with something or graze your body on some equipment. Something can poke your belly, scrape against your back or hit you right in the space nads. It's nice to have something to absorb at least some of that impact.

3 - Utility

Working on a space station requires versatility and high function. You'll need to carry tools and materials with you. To do this you'll need pockets, loops, velcro pads etc. It would also be highly beneficial if you were wearing some kind of harness; you can hook yourself to surfaces, brace yourself into places, and can easily go in and out of exercise equipment. The harness itself could also be a modular chassis for utility attachments, not unlike the H-harness that U.S. Marines wear.

Could you get by with just the modular harness and pocket belt? Eehhhh, maybe but the mental image at this point is getting pretty fetishistic. You can still go for it, man. It's your world, you're the creator.

4 - Comfort

I'm not gonna lie, walking around in just a birthday suit can be nice when nobody's around. But the feeling gets old, and it feels way nicer to have something soft and loose over your body. Robe, pajamas and T shirt, night gown, whatever orbits your spacecraft. Space stations aren't exactly known for being soft, warm and cuddly so wearing something to counter that can be a good idea.

5 - Fashion

Why navigate a space station in your birthday suit when there are so many other suits to choose from? Humans have always wanted to express themselves, and there's really no other universal way we do that than in what clothes we wear. It doesn't have to be anything fancy, though anything can happen. Anything from a simple T-shirt with an outdated reference from 2034 to a flashy yet functional station suit could work. How much clothing we decide to wear has varied over the millenia, yet most people from history would have agreed that people who had very little clothing were typically low status.

6 - Religious views

This one is pretty self-explanatory, isn't it?

7 - The Powers That Be say "NO"

Your astronauts of the Immediate Future may be progressively-minded, but Earth, that old world, is not. They also happen to be the ones funding your continued operation and survival. Your crew will very probably get to have some downtime where they can wear whatever they want, but in official broadcats and on receiving visitors, it's expected that they dress accordingly.

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    $\begingroup$ @Bohemian the Bible usually describes nudity as shameful and degrading and related to sin. Some samples are Genesis 9:21; Exodus 20:26; 32:25; 2 Chronicles 28:19; Revelation 3:17; 16:15; 17:16 Wheres only a few occurrences depicted it as not sinful. Nudity tends to have the implication of sinfulness attached to it, due to the 'sin' of lust. $\endgroup$ – MX D Feb 26 at 16:51
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    $\begingroup$ @MXD I checked all your references (most of which did not mention clothing directly), and none state catagorically that clothing is required, or that nudity is per se "sinful" or any kind of "bad". One reference talked about that someone who passed out drunk and naked and his son threw some cloth on him, presumably to keep him warm... big deal. Please clarify. $\endgroup$ – Bohemian Feb 26 at 17:15
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    $\begingroup$ Regarding utility - another problem in zero-G is getting stuck in the middle of a room. If the walls are out of reach, you need to have something you can throw to make yourself drift to the other side of the room. If you're wearing clothing, you'll always have something that you can throw in a pinch. $\endgroup$ – Rob Watts Feb 26 at 17:36
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    $\begingroup$ @Bohemian Most religions are pretty clear about their followers being modest. What counts as "modest" is often left to the local culture though. The Adam and Eve story though is very clear that nakedness was something to be ashamed of - although they didn't have shame until they had a concept of sin, which is an interesting side quest into morality in its own right. $\endgroup$ – Graham Feb 26 at 18:34
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    $\begingroup$ @bohemian you’re asking for sources in the religious books that explicitly decry nudity. This answer doesn’t claim the books explicitly ban it, the answer claims that there are religious views around nudity, which is a perfectly accurate claim. $\endgroup$ – Tim Feb 26 at 20:26
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If the future conquest of space follows the example of our recent creation of cyberspace, then advertising dollars will pay for a great deal of the infrastructure that is needed. Streaming coverage of everything extraterrestrial (except private bedrooms) might be a major part of future entertainment television; like reality television only on a grander scale.

Perhaps the sponsors of the Titan station are family oriented.

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    $\begingroup$ Big Brother Space Station or Truman in Space? $\endgroup$ – nzaman Feb 26 at 14:26
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    $\begingroup$ This is a very interesting concept, but I think that the logical extension of it would be that most spacecraft would have a no-clothes policy. $\endgroup$ – Mad Physicist Feb 26 at 17:57
  • $\begingroup$ Why "except private bedrooms"? Reality shows today have no such compunctions! $\endgroup$ – Doktor J Feb 27 at 19:20
  • $\begingroup$ @DoktorJ, because the original poster stated that nudity was allowed in private and intimate settings. $\endgroup$ – Henry Taylor Feb 28 at 2:06
  • $\begingroup$ @HenryTaylor it's not specified in the question. Besides, Big Brother and other reality shows have shown nudity (albeit blurred), so that's not a reason to make a distinction :P $\endgroup$ – Doktor J Feb 28 at 13:24
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Don't think anyone else has mentioned this yet:

Heat

Perhaps not a full on reason for zero tolerance as such, but what about the fact you have to heat/cool a spaceship?

Having your occupants in their own bundle of self-generated warmth means you don't have to heat the whole space as high as you would if everyone (or even one) person was nude. (Economical heating reason)

You could go as far as to say that some components on board need a cool (maybe sub zero) temperature to function properly and so low temps are a must. Perhaps as a safety feature in case of coolant containment leak everyone needs some sort of thermal protection.

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    $\begingroup$ I can assure you that the components that need to be cold would be very well isolated from any areas under life support. But the idea of economy is a good one. $\endgroup$ – Mad Physicist Feb 26 at 17:59
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    $\begingroup$ Common misconception, but in space, cooling can be harder than heating. Thermoses use vacuums to insulate, and space is a giant vacuum. So while less heat may be transferred in to a space station, there is also much less heat leaving. $\endgroup$ – Garrett Motzner Mar 1 at 0:57
  • $\begingroup$ Which makes putting people in clothes that prevent heat escaping their body into the surrounding air even more vital? (And remember this isn't current space tech - it's based in a near-future) $\endgroup$ – Smock Mar 1 at 9:50
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    $\begingroup$ @GarrettMotzner And there's plenty of incident heat if you're in sunlight - heat that's pretty tricky to get rid of while in sunlight. $\endgroup$ – Luaan Mar 4 at 19:53
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Because the ship is kept at a readiness condition in space

And part of that is clothing designed to buy you precious seconds in an emergency.

Set condition one throughout the ship. Thanks to Galactica, that is the most recognizable form of naval Material Conditions. These are measures to render the ship more stable and damage resistant: which hatches to keep closed, which level of readiness the crew should have, etc.

Real material conditions in the US Navy are:

  • X-ray: sitting in safe harbor
  • Yoke: underway at peacetime, at risk of ordinary accident
  • Zebra: more challenging or risky operations with higher risk of damage

Pleasure craft can get away with cruising around at X-ray because at sea, there are no micrometeorites. Space is far less forgiving, which forces everyone to take Material Conditions seriously.

Anyway, one aspect of Material Conditions is personal protective equipment.

In space, normal clothing is actually special clothing. First, it helps you survive decompression and remain functional long enouch to get to an emergency equipment trunk. It also helps reduce your injury in fire, and other important jobs.

You must be in in this garb at Yoke or Zebra. Yoke is the minimum possible material condition for a space station.

This became an absolutely militant requirement after a string of accidents, including the unnecessary loss of the Intrepid passenger liner with 3000 souls. Space is astonishingly good at preserving evidence. The key command personnel whose skills were needed to coordinate recovery were all found either frantically trying to put on proper clothing, rushing toward an emergency trunk, or inside an emergency trunk whose door they couldn't close because their hands stopped working. Without appropriate garb, they just ran out of time. The efforts of the rest of the crew were poorly coordinated and inadequate.

They determined essential personnel needed to have the proper clothing on at all times. This soon became a problem. First it proved impractical to distinguish "essential" from "non-essential" personnel, with lots of petitions to have ones job declared non-essential, cheating, and cries of unfairness. Second, when people were allowed to be unprepared, saving them distracted damage control crews who needed to focus on saving the ship. They should leave individuals to die, but that's asking too much. So authorities gave up, and said "everyone has to be prepared, always".

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Religion.

Historically, the most common reason for prescribed garments has been religion. These garments might be obvious to all and so symbolize common membership in the religion (e.g. head coverings). Some garments are not obvious and serve as a reminder of vows to the adherent of the religion. The Mormon temple garment is one of these.

A temple garment... is a type of underwear worn by adherents of the Latter Day Saint movement after they have taken part in the endowment ceremony. Garments are worn both day and night and are required for any adult who previously participated in the endowment ceremony to enter a temple. The undergarments are viewed as a symbolic reminder of the covenants made in temple ceremonies and are seen as a symbolic and/or literal source of protection from the evils of the world.

Your spacefarers are the member of a new religion - or maybe an old religion or remake of an old religion. It is lonely in space, and wearing the garment reminds spacefarers of their connection to something larger - their relationship with the divine powers of their religion, and with other members of their faith.

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    $\begingroup$ I am surprised at downvotes. I wonder if people find this offensive? If so I apologize. It was not my intent to mock or make light of religious beliefs. I think religion could be helpful to space travelers just as it is to people here on the ground. $\endgroup$ – Willk Feb 26 at 21:26
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    $\begingroup$ Amish in spaaaaaace! $\endgroup$ – Richard Feb 28 at 19:21
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    $\begingroup$ @Willk There are many people who consider the temple garment to be sacred, personal, and private. While the post is respectful in tone and language, I imagine it's the inclusion of the image that comes as an offensive shock on par with stumbling across a nude photo of a loved one posted without knowledge or consent. I know it's available on Wikipedia, but knowing it's out there and having it slap you in the face are two very different things. $\endgroup$ – KoaxialKable Feb 28 at 22:05
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    $\begingroup$ The photo is offensive, please remove the photo. This is breaking several cultural taboos: showing off other peoples' underwear (especially when they don't want you to) is an offense. Sure, you have a good point that religion can be a factor here, but this is crossing a line. $\endgroup$ – PipperChip Mar 1 at 3:14
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    $\begingroup$ I've removed the photo. I can't say that it was even slightly offensive to me, but since it was causing concern, and its absence won't detract significantly from the answer, it seems the most reasonable thing to do. If anyone really feels the need to see it, they can still follow the link. $\endgroup$ – Monty Wild Mar 1 at 3:32
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You cannot make such a prohibition because basic sanitation and hygiene requirements require some degree of nudity at different times. See for example Skylab Shower.

In fact the requirements of space flight and relatively confined quarters essentially require that people engaged in space flights must be comfortable being unclothed at times around each other. Modesty is not worth the mass it costs and mass is the most important thing. Mass used in providing special privacy could be better used providing e.g. additional backup life support or something similar.

In an emergency do you want people worried about a ban on nudity or people who will act decisively and immediately ? Nudity should not be an issue for people in this line of work - practically speaking nothing should bother them. If they have to share crude sanitary facilities due to e.g. a breakdown, then that's what is required. No silly restrictions should get in the way of what is practical in space.

There is no policy on possession of adult materials or even engage in intimate activity, just no nudity strictly!

This actually makes no sense. Apart from anything else, no nudity isn't very reasonable when you're allowing intimate adult activity. Put crudely, if they can screw it makes no sense to even try and ban nudity.

The crew would almost certainly be chosen based on their psychological and cognitive balance as a team, with overlap of skills and the psychological ability to complement and replace each other. These people won't even notice nudity.

The idea is deeply flawed, IMO.

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    $\begingroup$ Actually there are parts of the world where people do wear clothes at all times. I have trained in sport clubs where people showered in their underwear (ugh!), and there are religious groups who use a sheet with a hole when - um - procreating, to avoid physical contact... ugh again. $\endgroup$ – RedSonja Feb 26 at 7:59
  • $\begingroup$ @RedSonja "Parts of the world" and "in a confined space ship" are quite different things. From a practical point of view it's also worth saying that imposing a lack of nudity on people doesn't prevent anything except the nudity - they're still going to do all the "sins". I would be astonished if the "sheet with a hole" rule can be enforced in any realistic way, so what's the point ? $\endgroup$ – StephenG Feb 26 at 13:21
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    $\begingroup$ This answer is predicated upon the assumption that the only reason not to be nude is religious prudishness rather than clothing having any practical purpose. $\endgroup$ – pluckedkiwi Feb 26 at 14:56
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    $\begingroup$ @StephenG Your answer is based on clothing in space being 100% due to "modesty" to the point of being outright impractical (aka prudishness for supposedly moral reasons) . This is an incorrect assumption. Clothing is not a completely useless waste of mass but has purely practical functions which have nothing whatsoever to do with "modesty". Just read some of the other answers if you cannot yourself conceive of any purpose of clothing in microgravity. $\endgroup$ – pluckedkiwi Feb 26 at 16:41
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    $\begingroup$ @pluckedkiwi There is a vast difference between clothes having a purpose in general and a restriction that clothes must be worn every second of every day. The question is unclear (what constitutes nudity? Is it only complete nudity? Are you nude if you’re only wearing a sock? A t-shirt? Underwear?), but this answer is completely correct that there is a lot of sanitation on a space station that becomes very difficult if clothes must be worn. I don’t see any hint of this answer arguing that “clothing in space is 100% due to modesty”, just that modesty alone is not sufficient reason for it. $\endgroup$ – Janus Bahs Jacquet Feb 27 at 17:29
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Perhaps teenagers and/or children are on most if not all missions. This may be a part of a high-school class, a trade-school program, or even a menial job opportunity for teenagers (even space stations might need cooks, janitors, or the like). For the sake of avoiding moral or legal issues with underage individuals being exposed to, or exposing themselves, a zero-tolerance nudity for anyone at all times might make sense.

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    $\begingroup$ "even space stations might need cooks, janitors, or the like" Considering the mass penalty brought about by a human, especially one that you want to keep alive, if OP's space travellers use anything even remotely similar to our current propulsion technologies, there's going to be a massive pressure for everyone to do a little of everything, from advanced scientific experiments to cooking and cleaning. $\endgroup$ – a CVn Feb 26 at 9:13
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    $\begingroup$ Normal houses often have children and teenagers as well, and we don’t expect them to shower with their clothes on… $\endgroup$ – Janus Bahs Jacquet Feb 27 at 17:31
  • $\begingroup$ Don't bring children and teens onboard like it's a summer camp job opening or they'll treat it as such. They lack the mental and physical preparedness required to perform duties in space expected of all crew, like general repairs. Space requires oversight, and if something goes wrong, everyone has to be prepared to handle it. That's a lot of money and time investment, paying the salaries of multiple trainers at a premium price. You're not a minimum-wage janitor at that point. $\endgroup$ – person27 Mar 2 at 17:42
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Specific radiation answer, the primary reason:

Due to mass constraints, space vessel walls have been designed to provide enough radiation shielding just for electronics and brief human exposure. For any prolonged stays, everybody must wear a radiation protection suit. It's not very heavy, as it is designed to work with and complement the walls. But without it, you will shorten your life by decades, and the more time you are without it, the worse it gets. So taking a bath is no problem, but sleeping without a full body sleeping suit every night is going to be.

Once this primary reason is established, and having a suit is this way mandatory, all kinds of other things will get integrated into the system. For example, the air filters can be lighter when everybody is dressed all the time, as mentioned in the other answer. The suits can actually be part of the cleaning system, they are designed to sponge up dirt particles which then get removed when they're washed. Then there's the obivous monitoring of vital signs. Haptic feedback effecitvely giving extra senses, for example feeling of pressure before body actually bumps into a wall, could also be a factor, it could be a required safety measure in addition to the more obvious physical protection of clothes, not so much to protect you, but to protect the space vessel interior from wear (so again it can be made with lighter materials).

It won't be long before the space folks will feel almost as naked without their special suits, as we feel without our mobile phones today. Except in space it is positive thing, without the mobile phone dependency stigma of today. If you aren't wearing your suit, you are all kinds of rude, almost to the point of being hostile, to everybody around you. It's like walking in someones home with dirty work boots, leaving marks and dirt everywhere. On earth that just makes a mess and scratches the floor, in space it can kill you.

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Others have mentioned the issues with the human body leaving dead skin, hair, sweat and the like everywhere, but there is actually a great example of this problem on earth: Nudists.

Nudists are generally expected to carry a small towel or similar to sit on, because a lack of underwear creates hygiene issues. Also as people get older they tend to leak more.

It's somewhat manageable on earth where there are a limited number of places people are likely to sit and they can be cleaned, but even so towels are often mandatory. In space, with low/zero gravity, cramped quarters...

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Spacers are an independent bunch and will happily float around with parts flapping in the breeze.

Earth governments, in an attempt to maintain control over the spacers who are out of their physical control range outlaw any activity that could be part of a budding "spacer culture".

Thus, Earth mandates a number of really inefficient and downright inconvenient methods just to enforce Earth culture on the spacers.

Maybe any entertainment watched must contain ads that are used on Earth. Those ads would have nothing that the spacers could get or even use in space but they are part of the attempted enforced culture.

Also, new words would have to be approved by Earth (i.e. France).

They could have "culture ministers" who travel to make sure that no group behaviors are forming which would lead to independent thoughts.

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If you've ever been to space, you'd know that there is no such thing as still air in the kinds of environments humans can function in. Without gravity and weather to ensure the constant mixing of atmospheric gases, pockets of noxious carbon dioxide would quickly envelope the head of anything that breathes. As a result, the environmental systems in micro-gravity habitations need to be constantly forcing air circulation. That ends up with a constant breeze blowing over your skin, which most people find discomforting, and with long-term consequences both to the creature's integument and to the environmental systems that collect off-cast detritus.

It's not hard to see how a constant need to cover up because of chronic environmental and health reasons could morph into a social prohibition on nudity. Of course, there's always that one guy....

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Because space stations get a lot of mold (the ISS does – https://space.stackexchange.com/questions/2143/where-should-i-look-in-iss-to-find-mouldy-food), and food is never fresh, and water is recycled. This means sometimes there's nasties in the food or water.

This occasionally means people get diarrhoea.

Ever since the first station-wide outbreak of diarrhoea in zero-g, everyone agreed that keeping your pants on whenever possible was for the best.

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