“We need to design some pretty revolutionary spacesuits if we’re really going to realize human exploration of other [planetary] bodies,” says Dava Newman, at MIT. Together with her team, she’s trying to build the BioSuit, a form-fitting “second skin,” designed for lunar and Martian living.
A primary function of a spacesuit is to maintain air pressure in the airless vacuum of space or the sparse atmosphere of Mars. In the late 1960s, Paul Webb created a spacesuit that featured six layers of elastic that pressed the body to mimic pressure. The design was lighter and provided greater range of motion than the current “gas bag.” Webb tested the suit and its physiological effects and wrote a report in 1971 that said the idea was viable and safe. But NASA didn’t bite.
Newman took up the challenge. The proposed BioSuit will consist of a skintight body suit, a hard torso and backpack for life-support systems and equipment, and a domed helmet.
Newman’s team has made several lower-leg prototypes, including one of nylon-spandex, one of elastic wrapped like bandage, and another of pressurized foam painted with layers of urethane.
Ultimately, the BioSuit must maintain fairly constant pressure over the whole body as it moves.
Putting on a BioSuit might feel a bit like squeezing into a wetsuit several sizes too small. The researchers are looking to metals and polymers that expand, contract, or change their properties in response to heat or electricity. Most of these technologies exist, but are too weak or power-hungry to use yet.
Via USA Today.