Space Fashion Gets Hip
When Neil Armstrong took his famous small step in 1969, he might have managed a larger leap if it weren't for his 300-pound bulk of a spacesuit that minimized the motion of his legs and arms. Today, Dava Newman from MIT is designing a sleeker space suit that would allow astronauts to move about more freely during their space voyages.
Newman's suit design is slim, trim and looks more like a Superman costume than the bulging bundles of material we're familiar with today. For the last 40 years, the suits have not changed much, except for getting heavier. The current suits use gas pressurization to protect astronauts from the vacuum in space, supplemented with a heavy life support system and multiple layers.
Wearing one of the traditional suits, an astronaut would not be able to perform some of the tasks that scientists predict will accompany space missions in the future, such as driving rovers, maneuvering robots, and exploring landscapes. About 75% of an astronaut's energy goes simply to bending the suit. Also, if the suit should rip, the astronaut would have to immediately return to the ship before life-threatening decompression occurs.
Newman's suit, called a BioSuit, is meant to give astronauts the maximum amount of mobility possible while keeping them safe. Instead of gas pressurization, the suit consists of cloth wrapped tightly around the body to take advantage of mechanical counter-pressure against the vacuum.
The design utilizes physicist Saul Iberall's discovery of certain "lines of non-extension" that run through the body, lines on the body that never bend, and can provide a skeleton of structural support. And if the suit rips, the damaged part can simply be bandaged with more material, and the suit as a whole remains unscathed.
Like the traditional suits, the BioSuit would also use an oxygen tank and helmet. Most importantly, the lightweight, skin-tight suit would enable astronauts to physically perform necessary tasks by allowing greater mobility. Not only would this help with science experiments, but Newman hopes that it will also help astronauts to stay in shape while living in the microgravity of space, which is currently a health challenge for astronauts.
And as for mankind's first step on Mars, maybe it will truly be a giant leap.
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via: MIT News
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