Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Work Progressing on New Spacesuits

via ScienceDaily, work is progressing nicely (to include a prototype) on a new generation of slimmer, more mobile spacesuits. MIT scientist and engeineering professor Dava Newman has been working on it for seven years and hopes to have a "suitable" replacement acceptable to NASA by the time a Mars expedition could be launched in ten years.

"Newman is working on a sleek, advanced suit designed to allow superior mobility when humans eventually reach Mars or return to the moon. Her spandex and nylon BioSuit is not your grandfather's spacesuit--think more Spiderman, less John Glenn. Traditional bulky spacesuits "do not afford the mobility and locomotion capability that astronauts need for partial gravity exploration missions. We really must design for greater mobility and enhanced human and robotic capability," Newman says."

The interesting technical issue is that Newman is taking a new approach, utilizing mechanical counter pressure (tight layers of material wrapped around the body of an astronaut) rather than using the gas pressurization method of current suits. One major advantage to this approach is that if the suit is punctured, a simple patch would probably allow an astronaut to continue wokring, while a current suit would require them to return to their spacecraft due to the danger of decompression. Another positive is that a contemporary suit weighes in at about 300 lbs on Earth, and its bulkiness causes spacefarers to expend about 70-80 % of their energy just struggling to move the suit about. The new prototype is skintight and allows a considerably enhanced range of motion over conventional suits. A suit needs to maintain about 30 kilopascals of pressure (about a third of Earth's atmosphere at sea level) to be worn in space, and the current prototype is rated at about 20, with researchers believing they can get to between 25-30 kPa soon.

I vote we get Jerry Ryan and Jolene Blalock to model them for us. I'd really like to see that.

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