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Space Technology

The Evolution of Space Suit Design 304

Posted by samzenpus
from the spray-on-pants dept.
William_Lee writes "According to space.com, it looks like we may finally be on the verge of seeing a long overdue, radical redesign of space suits that will result in much lighter, more maneuverable, custom fitted suits. Now if we can actually get around to sending someone to Mars..."
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The Evolution of Space Suit Design

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  • . It is custom fitted to each astronaut using a laser scanning/electrospinlacing process.

    Do not look into the sun with your remaining eye.
    • Re:Slice and dice (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Rei (128717)
      Was it just me, or did anyone else read this:

      "Incorporated into that second skin would be electrically actuated artificial muscle fibers to enhance human strength and stamina." ....and find it a bit far fetched (not as in "technically impossible", but more like "budgetarily infeasible"?). I half expected the article to continue "... controlled by a network of mind-reading sensors, and integrated into the comm system of the nanomachines cleansing their bodies of toxins, while being able to merge with their
      • Re:Slice and dice (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Martin Blank (154261)
        As the 'skin' is sprayed on, the fibers could be electrically or magnetically aligned prior to the skin solidifying. Fibers embedded in the skin could be designed to run through them, and a computer could send signals through the skin learning the fiber map. This would then allow the computer to take in signals through the fiber network of stress applied to the skin, and send out signals to those locations as needed, boosting the strength there.

        This leaves a lot of questions open (how to handle cross-tal
        • > the fibers could be electrically or magnetically aligned

          Yes. It's an additional problem (along with several others) that large-scale systems don't have, and we can't even get the large scale systems to work right and still be lightweight, durable, reasonable-cost, etc.

          I don't think we should give credence to something like this when we can't even manage very well on a system where you can actually physically place and test your actuators.
      • That's where the article started to lose me as well, just more pie in the sky dreaming about what would be cool with little basis in reality or what's in development. I mean I don't really care if stuff like this get's posted as a "news" story, but I do tire of the breathless copy that makes it sound like this stuff will be hitting shelves anytime now.
    • Spray on suits?!?! We are just begging for horrible things to happen to these people by pressing clothes to the limits of physics. "How about I stay really really safe and wear the Apollo era suit, and you guys spray that stuff on yourselves and make sure you cover every freakin micrometer of exposed skin."

      • by flyingsquid (813711) on Thursday January 27, 2005 @12:40AM (#11488907)
        Spray on suits?!?! We are just begging for horrible things to happen to these people by pressing clothes to the limits of physics

        If by "horrible", you mean "life threatening", then I don't know about that. But if by "horrible" you mean, "the utter agony upon removal of the suit when every single hair on your body is ripped out one by one", then yes, I agree completely.

  • by Anonymous Coward
    soon, but we shouldn't let that get in the way of fashion. I say we should make a rover catwalk.
    Yeah baby, shake that spectrometer, OWWW!
    I apologize profusely.
  • Do you like your quasi-futuristic clothes Mr. Powers? I designed them myself.
    • Do you like your quasi-futuristic clothes Mr. Powers? I designed them myself.

      He would be the designer. He had a ritualistically shaved scrotum which would not be harmed by a spray on second skin. Looks like a TBHW (Total Body Hot Wax) for every one else.

  • A redesigned suit? How about before they do that they come and fix my toaster. It's been shooting toast at me for years because NASA reprogrammed it for 'defense from hungry aliens' If they can't fix my damn toaster, what makes them think a redesign will help?
  • About time.. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by jmcmunn (307798) on Wednesday January 26, 2005 @08:40PM (#11486943)

    I was actually just watching an IMAX Nasa special the other day and was shocked to hear that the current space suits weigh in at almost 250lbs!! I know that without gravity, it doesn't matter how much you weigh, but the bulk in those suits seriously made it hard for the astronauts to do their job at times.

    A new "second skin" version of the suit would certainly make it easier on the astronauts, and would free up a ton of space for hauling more cargo up there as well.

    On a side note, Nasa was testing this cool 100ft solar array in the movie, which when folded up fit into a 7 inch tall box! It was pretty cool.
    • it may be incredibly heavy by earth measure, but the suit also includes a personalized liquid cooling system, thermal protection for the extreme temperature differences between sun and shade, and a pretty serious amount of puncture protection. While it may not fit the bill for hiking across the mars terrain, it does offer some serious advantages over what sounds like an incredibly complex and complicated applied second skin. having worn one (attended space camp far too many years ago), i'd have to say that
    • Re:About time.. (Score:4, Informative)

      by s0m3body (659892) <martin@hajduch.de> on Wednesday January 26, 2005 @09:13PM (#11487222) Homepage
      it DOES matter even in space

      being free of gravity does not mean being free of inertia

    • Re:About time.. (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Pig Hogger (10379)

      I was actually just watching an IMAX Nasa special the other day and was shocked to hear that the current space suits weigh in at almost 250lbs!!

      So? I SCUBA dive for fun, and for the dive I like the most, under-ice diving, the drysuit, the underwear, the weights (because the suit floats), the tanks and the rest of the diving gear weight a full 100 pounds. And when you ice dive, you suit-up a long way from the hole, to which you have to walk with the gear on, and when you wear it all around you and on your

    • New space suits would be cool I guess, but I'm kind of left wondering what exactly these will be used for other than the occasional turn around the ISS before the Bush administration mothballs it and the space shuttle.

      I see Boeing and Northrop [spacedaily.com] have teamed for the CEV leading to the inevitable result of every NASA contract competition, a team led by Boeing competeing against one led by Lockheed, assuming they don't either collude or spy on one another as is theire history.

      So, I assume maybe these suits wil
  • by Tablizer (95088) on Wednesday January 26, 2005 @08:40PM (#11486946) Homepage Journal
    Tight-fitting suits may mean that astronauts are more likely to get turned on, resulting in all kinds of mayham and soap operas. Space can get lonely. Maybe the baggy look is better afterall.
  • by rob_squared (821479) <rob&rob-squared,com> on Wednesday January 26, 2005 @08:40PM (#11486950)
    ...the first medical accident when someone thinks this stuff is aerosol cheese.
  • Warning! (Score:5, Funny)

    by EdwinBoyd (810701) on Wednesday January 26, 2005 @08:46PM (#11487004)
    This article contains material on spacesuit evolution. Evolution is a theory, not a fact, regarding the origin of spacesuits. This material should be approached with an open mind, studied carefully and critically considered.
  • by syousef (465911) on Wednesday January 26, 2005 @08:47PM (#11487006) Journal
    A thin layer of biomaterial may be sufficient for protecting you from the vacuum of space if they get around the engineering considerations, but I for one would not want a "second skin" as my only protection from radiation and cosmic rays.

    This is a consideration particularly where there is no atmosphere absorbing any of it before it gets to you (eg the moon and Earth orbit). The Earth also has its magnetic field helping shield us.

    Also consider that the thinnner and lighter a material is the more likely a rip becomes. That one rip will easily end your life. You'd need to incorporate a system self repair of small holes and tears - perhaps a gluey substance that seals under pressure.
    • by m0rphin3 (461197)
      From TFA:

      "..an astronaut first donning his or her customized elastic Bio-Suit layer. Then a

      hard torso shell would be slipped on, sealed via couplings located at the hips. A portable life support system is then attached mechanically to the hard torso shell and provides gas counter pressure. Gas pressure would flow freely into the wearer's helmet and down tubes on the bio-suit layer to the gloves and boots"

      The thin 'second skin' is augmented by a hard torso shell, and the oxygen seems to go in tubes, most

      • Two points

        1) Some radiation in space (ie at its normal strength) can only be blocked by a suitable thickness of material. A _thin_ hard shell won't offer much protection. When there's a solar storm for example astronauts cease all EVA activity and go to the most heavily shielded area of the craft/space station.

        2) Space is a difficult environment to work in. Rips and tears are actually quite likely. Take a look at the servicing missions for hubble. Many hours in a single EVA performing complex repairs usin
        • "...for example astronauts cease all EVA activity and go to the most heavily shielded area..."

          With the new dummy plug technology coming along nicely, this should hopefully be a thing of the past.
    • Hey, that holds huge potential for the condom industry! Just think -- like Tang, freeze-dried ice cream, and Velcro, condoms can be revolutionised by NASA!

      p
    • You'd need to incorporate a system self repair of small holes and tears - perhaps a gluey substance that seals under pressure.
      Doesn't sound like a particularly good solution if you're operating in a vacuum!
      • Doesn't sound like a particularly good solution if you're operating in a vacuum!

        If a tear occurs the liquid would be drawn out by the vacuum, and then somehow harden. I haven't thought this out in much detail, and you're right there could be problems, but it's an approach that might prove feasible.
      • A rip isn't a problem. since the suits are using mechanical pressure, rather than air pressure, a rip is not threatening (as long as your air supply around your head is safe). You will end up with a horrible bruise from your cappelaries bursting at the point of the rip, but you would survive.
    • A thin layer of biomaterial may be sufficient for protecting you from the vacuum of space if they get around the engineering considerations, but I for one would not want a "second skin" as my only protection from radiation and cosmic rays.

      That's a real problem, but current space ships offer little protection, much less current 250lb+ space suits. No suit is really going to help you, so you need a shelter. Some ideas are lithium shields and crew quarters inside fuel tanks!

      These suits are being designed m

    • Provided that the material is designed so that small tears do not spread and become large holes, a small hole is not a problem. The astronaut probably has about 5 psi (1/3 atmosphere) around his head, and over the rest of the body that 5 psi is provided by the suit. Skin can hold back 5 psi easily for hours at a time without damage. 5 psi is about what a baby suckles at. At worst, the astronaut with a small hole tight against the skin will get a hickey.
  • by jemenake (595948) on Wednesday January 26, 2005 @08:50PM (#11487037)
    Is it just me... or do the old suits look freakin' cool and the new ones look totally gay?

    The old ones look functional, with color-coded hose hook-ups and all... like a deep-sea diver... a deep-space diver, if you will.

    These new ones... jeez... you can tell if the guy's circumcised or not! Seeing as how an astronaut is probably more likely to encounter an alien being than the rest of us land-lubbers, I'd be very concerned if the first human the martians meet is dressed like a metrosexual.
    • If Spandex was good enough for Buck Rogers, it's good enough for *my* ass.

      Besides, when I was a boy, we only had vacuum suits made from sabertooth-tiger leather, and we LIKED it.

  • again, star trek precedes real life... all we need are female vulcan astronauts.
  • by thogard (43403) on Wednesday January 26, 2005 @08:56PM (#11487083) Homepage
    If you read official NASA stuff, you will find that the space suits are there to keep the guys warm in the cold of space. That is total BS. Put a self warming thing in a perfect insulator and what happens? It gets hot. It turns out that since the Russians haven't figured out how to make peltier effect space suits, that many of the details of the Apollo era suits are still secret. Even some of the details of early astronaut almost dying from dehydrating in their suits haven't been released

    One of the other things is that your blood will boil or explode in space. Thats not true either. All thats needed to protect the skin is a thin layer of something like a cheap wet suit. There have been studies that show thick rubber gloves would work fine for the pressure if there was a way to get rid of the sweat.

    The real mechanical problem is keeping the head protected along with proper containment of everything the body is trying to get rid of.

    Of course the real problem is all that radiation.
    • What the fuck are you talking about? What perfect insulator? The suits aren't a perfect insulator, and no one has a perfect insulator yet. Put a self warming thing in an imperfect insulator and what happens? You probably get cold.

      Your blood won't boil? Bullshit. The temperature things boil at depends quite a bit on pressure. This is one of the reasons that many cake mixes and such have different directions for cooking at high altitude. How the hell do you think that rubber glove works? It works by *maintai
      • Your blood won't boil? Bullshit.

        I recall reading that your skin is able to support the vapor pressure, enough to stop your blood from boiling. The problem is when you have cuts etc.
      • The suits aren't a perfect insulator, and no one has a perfect insulator yet.

        Man goes into suit. Suit goes into space.

        A pretty total vacuum's in space. Vacuum's a pretty damned good insulator. The only way to cool things off in that environment is radiative cooling, unless you wanna also cart along a lot of some working fluid to boil off. Radiative cooling's damned inefficient. Take a human being, who's going to be generating more than 100 W if he's going any kind of useful work, and put him in a me
      • by thogard (43403) on Wednesday January 26, 2005 @10:34PM (#11487907) Homepage
        Your blood won't boil? Bullshit.

        The last I knew, the triple point for blood was close to the triple point of water. That means you have to get a very good vacuum. Fragile lung tissue can hold something in the order of two atmospheres for most people (some its as low as .1 which is why you need to exhale while ascending when diving). Maybe you forgot about membrane pressure.

        The guy who taught me most of this stuff was a life support system division head during the days Gemini and Apollo.

        If your thrown in space, the water in your pores will evaporate and cause frostbite in every pore of your body. The water in your eyes will do the same. As will your nasal cavity and sinuses. So if you can provide a low pressure containment for your head and a way to keep the water in your skin from evaporating quickly, you won't suffer any long term effects.
    • What perfect insulator? Space doesn't insulate very well at all against radiative heat loss. Why do you think that it gets colder at night than during the day?
    • Actually, a porous fabric is good enough. All it has to do is hold in the gross pressure that the body will be exerting on it, skin can do the work of holding pressure on the sub-millimeter scale. The advantage to this technique is that sweat can evaporate through the suit, providing natural cooling. (Of course, this is a disadvantage too, since the spacecraft has to bring the extra water to replace the sweat.) A problem is providing a transition area around the helmet so that gasses don't escape in that re
      • All it has to do is hold in the gross pressure that the body will be exerting on it, skin can do the work of holding pressure on the sub-millimeter scale.

        Yep. John W. Campbell described this suit in an editorial in Analog -- in 1969.

  • by Ced_Ex (789138)
    Ahhh yes... we're one step closer to getting Power Ranger suits. Then we all have to learn to talk and nod our heads at the same time.
  • Future space explorers may apply a "spray-on" second skin, an organic, biodegradable layer offering protection in extremely dusty planetary environments. Incorporated into the second skin will be electrically actuated artificial muscle fibers to enhance human strength and stamina.

    ooooooKay then. I suppose this has been dreamed up by the same people who envisioned "Nuclear cars", jetpacks, tube-elevators, practically sentient computers, and ray guns?

    Seriously- what qualifies some of these people to talk

  • by multiplexo (27356) on Wednesday January 26, 2005 @09:26PM (#11487343) Journal
    in that lost and far-away decade of the Jerry Pournelle described in an article in Galaxy that was later reprinted in A Step Farther Out some space suit research that David Clark did in the late 1960s. This was for suits that would provide pressure via a skin tight fit. Unfortunately NASA stopped doing this research and stuck with the suits we have today, which are large, cumbersome, heavy and extremely expensive. Pournelle described how these suits would work in a couple of his novels including Birth of Fire and Exiles to Glory, it's nice to see that NASA is now getting their shit together and restarting this research.

  • In space? Without bacteria or oxygen?

    The only thing I can think of to degarde your suit would be sunlight and I don't think that would be a design feature.

    Fluffy, very fluffy but meaningless.
  • I mean, do they tell us that the Massachusetts Institute of Technology is MIT?
  • The new uniforms are skin-tight. [space.com] So that's what T'Pol's uniform [enterprise-home.de] is for! :p

  • by argoff (142580) on Wednesday January 26, 2005 @10:22PM (#11487826)
    I'm not sure if I agree with their approach. I would think that loose fitting, light, super high strength baggy outfits would be the best way to go. They could be weaved in with netted fibre, like a hot air baloon. As long as they have enough pressure to maintain proper-psi on the skin, it doesn't matter if they're a little loose. or if they puff out a little. Shoes could be regular tennies worn on the outside of the suit, maybe something similar with leather gloves. Humidity, temperature, and varying air pressure would half to be managed (maybe a high humidity zone for breathing, and a low humidity zone for sweating). A portable (roll along?) unit hooked up to a long tube would be eaiser to work with. If a problem happens, the could just disconnect the tube, walk back to the unit, and plug in there, take a spare along too. For radiation, there could be carry along umbrellas, or shelters. Maybe light protection in the suit, but not to weigh it down.

    IMHO, The idea of laser custom fit suits, and spraid on super-skin just seems like problems waiting to happen. It's better to keep it simple to use, simple to change, repair, simple to manage, and inherently uncomplicated.
  • I pity the first crew on a mars mission... radiation sickness is a horrible way to die... in a tin coffin millions of miles away from home with nothing but the coldness of space arounb you no less...
  • Yea, right (Score:3, Insightful)

    by real gumby (11516) on Wednesday January 26, 2005 @10:48PM (#11488017)

    C'mon guys, this isn't news. It isn't even a press release purporting to be news. It's just a gee-whizz-somebody-is-doing-research-on-an-idea news. It's so far away from being news that when it finally is, years or even decades from now, you won't be able to recogize the connection.

    Let's leave this stuff unread in in Popular Science or Technology Review where it belongs.

  • by MaGGuN (630724)
    I think we should start advertising on going to mars. Ads everywhere, "Mars is great", "Lets explore Mars" etc. etc. Maybe Slashdot can have a vote and put up an ad if the audience says yay.
  • From the article (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Zebra_X (13249) on Wednesday January 26, 2005 @11:01PM (#11488093)
    Incorporated into that second skin would be electrically actuated artificial muscle fibers to enhance human strength and stamina.

    Right - this technology is WAY far away. Synthetic muscle fibers have been under development for the last decade. One of the first innovations were Contractle Polymers. These have since given way to other technologies - but non yet equal the strength of human muscle. In addition to make them more useful, these fibers are going to have to be multiples of the strength of human muscle. Also, the notion of a "spray on" skin that creates a powered exomuscular infrastructure requires a fusing of so many current and future technologies that this is not a particularly realistic goal at this time.

    I think what i'm trying to say - this isn't news it's a dream. Obviously people need to figure it out - but there are not going to be tangible results from such research for sometime.
  • by bluyonder (643628) on Thursday January 27, 2005 @12:36AM (#11488860)
    Human skin is actually a surprisingly strong pressure barrier. The conterpressure suit can be an open weave with up to millimeter sized openings. The biggest problem is figuring out how to keep pressure on the concave areas such as under the arms and behind the knees. An advantage of counterpressure suits is that a tear in the suit doesn't result in catastrophic pressure loss. It only causes injury to the area of the tear. Another problem with them is getting them on and off. It would be like putting super tight pantyhose over your whole body. (not that I know anything about that)

    Here are some papers on counterpressure suits:
    http://mvl.mit.edu/EVA/BioSuitDJN_Nov03.pdf [mit.edu]
    http://spacecraft.ssl.umd.edu/publications/ICES02- 2311.pdf [umd.edu]
    http://mvl.mit.edu/EVA/NIACPhaseIReport.pdf [mit.edu]
  • by FleaPlus (6935) on Thursday January 27, 2005 @04:45AM (#11490238) Journal
    Things like this are the perfect target for the Centennial Challenges program, a NASA program of prize contests for private endeavours to create or accomplish things related to space exploration. Spacesuit design is an area where a small private company can make appreciable progress with a reasonable amount of investment.

    An even more specific goal is a better astronaut glove. Gloves sound like very simple things, but it's been pretty tricky so far to create a glove which can reliably remain intact in a vacuum while also giving the user a good degree of manual dexterity. A space policy analyst said the following in an article [foxnews.com]:

    In fact, the glove is the biggest problem in designing the high-pressure space suits necessary to avoid the bends (the same problem a diver has when she surfaces too quickly) when an astronaut goes out into the vacuum of space. Larger joints like shoulders and knees have special designs that are zero-volume change, but no one has yet miniaturized such a design to finger joints.

    Because this is a critical technology, and one that has great leverage in influencing launch system trades, I would propose the following:

    Build a vacuum glove box with a task box inside (perhaps an automobile engine that has to be dissassembled and reassembled). Put up a purse of a million dollars to the first person who can achieve the task working through gloves under a pressure differential of half an atmosphere, without a break.

    Unlike many space activities, it's a project that can be literally done in someone's garage, and it may spur a great amount of innovation for very low cost. Accordingly, it would make an excellent candidate for the Office of Exploration's new prize fund, and I hope they'll strongly consider it. At very low cost to the taxpayers, one or more successful concepts could lay to rest myths about the intrinsic difficulty of working in space, opening up the options for how we will get to the planets beyond redoing Apollo, perhaps saving billions in dollars, and constituting a major step toward becoming a truly spacefaring nation.

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