The Future of the Space Suit
Often in science fiction we see sleek, body-hugging attire that probably looks like it was designed more for style and "sex appeal" than any practical reason, however, it looks like those curve-hugging designs are coming about to be a reality in the near future. More surprising, they will have invaluable medical and practical applications as humanity begins to jump forward up into the stars.
|Skinsuit, Image Credit: NASA-Waldie|
The European Space Agency has developed something they call a "Skinsuit" which will be worn while inside a space craft or space station. The purpose of the suit is to squeeze the body and provide support that will lessen the muscle and bone loss that occurs in low and zero gravity environments. This is expected to help astronauts avoid the difficult transition, and in some cases surgery, required when transiting back to normal gravity conditions.
|Skinsuit, Image Credit: ESA|
It does this using a tailored weave in the material that provides a pressure on the body from the shoulders and feet that simulates that experienced on Earth due to gravity. This not only "tricks" the body into thinking it's in a gravitational field, it helps prevent slipped discs and spinal injuries that can occur due to the decompression the spine experiences in space.
Even more innovative designs are in the works. MIT graduate and current professor, Dava Newman, has invented a skin-tight space suit using nickel-titanium wires called "muscle wires" to provide the needed pressure for the occupant. These suits are designed specifically with Mars missions in mind, and will be used to walk around and perform activities in the open Martian atmosphere. The suit has a bubble-like helmet with a streamlined design, and a body-glove like cover that, like the ESA's Skinsuit, presses against the body. She calls this type of space suit a "Bio-suit," and in a recent TED-Women talk referred to it as "the world's smallest space craft." (I highly recommend following the link, close-up views of the Bio-suit are available there along with the original article).
|Bio-Suit & Traditional Style Suit, Image Credit: NASA|
This NASA image shows the Bio-suit beside a more traditional space suit. (Go to the TED site for images of the helmet attachment).
—And speaking of a more traditional suit, NASA also has something called a Z1 Space Suit in development. The Z1 is meant to be a quick-entry space suit whose back attaches to an airlock. To put it on, an astronaut need only slip in through the hatch in the back and bam! They're ready to go out on a leisurely (or not) stroll around the space station.
|The Z1 suit, Image Credit: NASA|
This quicker suit will save vital time that is now spent putting on the older, bulkier, and multi-part space suits. In an emergency, one can easily imagine the benefits of this design.
Although I don't have access to release/use dates, one can expect these new designs to be in use within the next 10-20 years (hopefully shorter). Moving forward it looks they will make space a sleeker and safer place to be!