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NASA Space Science Technology

Next-Gen Spacesuits 123

Posted by samzenpus
from the new-and-improved dept.
ambermichelle writes "Outer space is a hostile environment for humans, characterized by an airless vacuum, thermal extremes, ionizing radiation and speeding micro meteoroids. Less well-known are the dangers posed by long-term exposure to microgravity or zero-g conditions, which over time severely saps the strength of astronauts' muscles and bones. Several researchers are working to develop new spacesuit designs that could help counteract these threats as well as avoid some of the familiar drawbacks of current spacesuit models such as bulk, weight and rigidity."
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Next-Gen Spacesuits

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  • by Anonymous Coward

    When astronauts start looking like Samus Aran, with or without the power armor, I expect interest in space travel will increase dramatically.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday February 02, 2012 @08:31PM (#38910309)
    ...when we resume manned space exploration. and develop a manned space vehicle to take us there again.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      Does the new suit recycle urine into drinking water, like the old ones did? I read this article with excitement, hoping for some good descriptions of the newer, state-of-the-art in pee-drinking. It doesn't say very much tho. I hope if these do come in handy, there will be plenty of need for this. The pee part, you know. Weeeeee!

      • by rossdee (243626) on Thursday February 02, 2012 @09:06PM (#38910631)

        "Does the new suit recycle urine into drinking water,"

        Yeah, that could be very useful for other environments than space, such as when global warming turns the earth into a desert.

        "Urine and feces are processed in the thigh pads" - Leit Kynes

        • by EdIII (1114411) on Thursday February 02, 2012 @09:13PM (#38910685)

          "Urine and feces are processed in the thigh pads" - Leit Kynes

          Yeah.... I bought the whole urine deal, but not the feces processing. I have pinched some loafs that I seriously doubt any technology, that is wearable, could process into anything useful.

          How the fuck can the suit process corn? Corn chips just magically come out of a pocket?

          • by Fned (43219) on Thursday February 02, 2012 @09:39PM (#38910863) Journal

            It's a lot easier if all you ever eat is the stuff that comes out of the thigh pads.

            • by EdIII (1114411)

              Isn't there diminishing returns at some point?

              If all you ate was literally shit would you not starve to death?

              • by Tim C (15259)
                Yes of course; your digestive system extracts nutrients from what you eat. It's almost certainly not 100% efficient so you may well be able to get more out if you ingest it again (once it's been suitably processed to make it ingestible/palatable), but eventually you'll have removed all that you can remove. Once you reach that point eating it again won't do you any good.
          • by pnot (96038) on Thursday February 02, 2012 @10:58PM (#38911307)

            "Urine and feces are processed in the thigh pads" - Leit Kynes

            Yeah.... I bought the whole urine deal, but not the feces processing. I have pinched some loafs that I seriously doubt any technology, that is wearable, could process into anything useful.

            How the fuck can the suit process corn? Corn chips just magically come out of a pocket?

            I always assumed that the "processing" just extracted water, leaving some kind of dessicated shit powder that gets dumped. Far more plausible than reprocessing shit into food, though scarcely comfortable or fragrant. In Dune the smell of a Fremen sietch is described as an assault on the nostrils... I think we can guess why.

        • by grahammm (9083) *

          How would this work for female astronauts? For males, external catheters and urine collection bags are established technology and could conceivably be incorporated into a close fitting space suit. For a female,. urine collection/recycling in a suit does not seem nearly so straightforward. The collection tube would have to form a permanent (or at least while she is urinating) water-tight seal over her labia otherwise the urine would pool in the suit (or where there is gravity, run down her legs).

      • by mhajicek (1582795)
        Que graphene filters. There was a recent article on how they pass water but nothing else.
    • Fetch me the Internapult!

  • frosty piss (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday February 02, 2012 @08:33PM (#38910341)

    was contained in the bladder in one boot in the Apollo pressure-suit designs. I wonder what they'll do for these elastic suits.

    • by Iskender (1040286)

      Come on moderators, reward the man for managing an on-topic post on with that subject!

      I'm wondering what they'll do too!

    • by AmiMoJo (196126)

      Depends how bothered you are about contaminating the environment... The Apollo spacecraft, like most, just vented it into space. Would that be okay on the moon?

      It always seemed odd that they went to so much effort to disinfect everything that went to the moon, then contaminated it all again when the guys touched it.

  • by schwit1 (797399) on Thursday February 02, 2012 @08:37PM (#38910387)

    I'm sure her ear rings will be permitted.

  • Not the answer (Score:5, Interesting)

    by NemoinSpace (1118137) on Thursday February 02, 2012 @08:44PM (#38910443) Homepage Journal
    I'm not sure what percentage of the time the crew would need to wear these suits to prevent atrophy. I am sure it will be more than they are willing to put up with.
    We are going to have to come up with solutions on a much grander scale to change the environment, not adapt to it. It's how we humans have taken over the planet and how we will take over space. But we won't do it till we spend a lot more time on earth doing the grunt work (engineering and thinking) instead of spending billions on half baked manned missions to nowhere worthwhile.
    • by loufoque (1400831)

      Use centrifugal force at the space station level to implement actual gravity.

      • Re:Not the answer (Score:4, Interesting)

        by tgd (2822) on Thursday February 02, 2012 @08:53PM (#38910533)

        Use centrifugal force at the space station level to implement actual gravity.

        Centripital. And the problem with that is, the structure you're standing in has the same sense of acceleration as the astronaut. It has to be dramatically stronger, and thus heavier, and therefore unworkable in orbit.

        • by Twinbee (767046)
          Can you explain that in more depth? Doesn't the structure have to be strong anyway to withstand takeoff pressures from Earth?
          • Re:Not the answer (Score:4, Insightful)

            by Fned (43219) on Thursday February 02, 2012 @09:36PM (#38910845) Journal

            Can you explain that in more depth? Doesn't the structure have to be strong anyway to withstand takeoff pressures from Earth?

            Only if it's launched in one piece...

            • What's your point? If the space station is assembled in space, then the final structure will only have to be as strong as the equivalent structure on Earth would be (assuming the aim is 1 earth gravity, obviously). Are you worried about other things like pressure differential, radiation etc?
          • Re:Not the answer (Score:4, Informative)

            by sjames (1099) on Thursday February 02, 2012 @11:13PM (#38911401) Homepage

            For one, the structure is launched in segments. For another, it only has to be strong along it's major axis for launch, but for centrifugal gravity, it must be strong radially from it's axis.

            • Why are you assuming that the module(s) couldn't be designed to have the same orientation when deployed as when launched? Skylab did.

              • by sjames (1099)

                Because if you rotate it that way to generate pseudogravity, you'd end up with tiny floor space and really tall ceilings. Not terribly useful. Skylab had a zero-G environment, so the distinction between floor, wall, and ceiling was unimportant.

                • Because if you rotate it that way to generate pseudogravity, you'd end up with tiny floor space and really tall ceilings

                  Skylab had a diameter of 24 feet, giving each "floor" a area of about 450 sq-ft. That's not huge, but it's as large as some apartments. So what if you have the equivalent of a large house spread out over 4-5 "floors"?

                  • by sjames (1099)

                    The absolute size hardly matters, it's a matter of how large is it vs how large could it have been if you did it right. As I said, it hardly mattered for Skylab because it was zero-g.

                    Floors have weight too and every tiny bit counts. Besides that, there is a fairly sharp gradient when pseudo-gravity is used.

                    Due to physics, it is easier for us to launch taller cylinders rather than wider ones.

                    • If you want to spin it for simulated gravity, it's a lot easier to orient it so the stress is in the direction that is already strong enough to survive launch. If that means you have several stories of small "rooms", so be it.

                      You seem to be arguing that it's better to just give up on the idea rather than take advantage of the existing strength of any module launched from Earth, just because you want it to sit "sideways".
                    • by sjames (1099)

                      No, I argue that given our current launch capabilities and the need to conserve every ounce of weight, we're not yet at a point where it's practical to use pseudo-gravity. As I said before, floors add weight too.

        • by Fned (43219)

          Centripital. And the problem with that is, the structure you're standing in has the same sense of acceleration as the astronaut. It has to be dramatically stronger, and thus heavier, and therefore unworkable in orbit.

          I was under the impression that materials science has come quite a long way since the invention of bones.

        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          You do know the difference between centripetal and centrifugal force, right? There's only a centripetal force acting on the astronaut's feet, but there's a centrifugal force acting on his whole body.

          Centrifugal is the correct force for discussing gravity simulation.

          • by Anonymous Coward

            You do know the difference between centripetal and centrifugal force, right? There's only a centripetal force acting on the astronaut's
            feet, but there's a centrifugal force acting on his whole body.

            Pedantically, there's only a centripetal force acting on the astronaut's feet or there's a centrifugal force acting on his whole body. The former in an inertial reference frame, the latter in an accelerated (specifically, rotating with the station) frame.

            Centrifugal is the correct force for discussing gravity simulation.

            Definitely.

          • by wagnerrp (1305589)
            Do you really expect me to do coordinate substitution in my head while spinning around in an orbiting space station?
          • by jamvger (2526832)
            Forces acting on the feet are transmitted to the rest of the body: we call this "standing up". This is true regardless of your frame of reference.

            Centrifugal force is a pseudoforce, i.e. a force arising from the acceleration of a non-inertial frame of reference.

            Gravity is also a pseudoforce [wikipedia.org] - this is the fundamental premise of General Relativity.
    • by Surt (22457)

      Actually, the far more likely solution is for us to adapt ourselves. Gene therapy to prevent bone loss or muscle atrophy is going to be utterly cheap compared to any solution that involves the design of the spaceship or spacesuit.

      • If you consider times scales, I don't think that is likely at all.
        We pretty much know how to make a space wheel now. Gene manipulation to that degree is a hundred years away. My observation still stands - Humans tend to change their environment rather than adapt to it. Although I concede in 100 years that may change radically.
        • by Surt (22457)

          Well yes, it was pretty much built in to my claim that having humans in space for long enough for this to matter is at least 100 years away. I have my fingers crossed to be proved wrong on that, but I won't be holding my breath.

    • Re:Not the answer (Score:5, Interesting)

      by R3d M3rcury (871886) on Thursday February 02, 2012 @11:45PM (#38911603) Journal

      But we won't do it till we spend a lot more time on earth doing the grunt work (engineering and thinking) instead of spending billions on half baked manned missions to nowhere worthwhile.

      While I agree to a point, you actually have to eventually do these things in order to see how they work.

      Consider Apollo. We didn't just fire up the ol' Saturn V and head to the Moon. You're right that there was lots of design and testing done on Earth. But eventually we flew Apollo 7 [wikipedia.org] in orbit around Earth in order to test the CSM. We flew around the Moon on Apollo 8 [wikipedia.org] to test those procedures (as well as beat them Rooskis to the Moon). Apollo 9 [wikipedia.org] tested the LEM and the extraction procedures in Earth orbit and Apollo 10 [wikipedia.org] tested them in Lunar orbit (as an aside, I have to admit that if I was on the Apollo 10 mission and everything was working out, I'd be tempted to yell "Fuck you, Neil!" into my radio and land on the Moon. What's NASA gonna do?) Not to mention the various unmanned launches before Apollo 7 [wikipedia.org].

      Were all those "half-baked" missions of the Apollo program a waste? Are you saying we should have just shot astronauts at the Moon until one of them made it?

      • Re:Not the answer (Score:5, Informative)

        by Seraphim1982 (813899) on Thursday February 02, 2012 @11:57PM (#38911663)

        (as an aside, I have to admit that if I was on the Apollo 10 mission and everything was working out, I'd be tempted to yell "Fuck you, Neil!" into my radio and land on the Moon. What's NASA gonna do?)

        Watch as you die on the moon because the ascent stage lacked the fuel needed to return the Lunar Module to the Command Module from the surface of the moon.

        • by Anonymous Coward

          In addition, they were collecting gravitational data needed for a clean approach -- I'm not certain, but I'm under the impression they did not process the data in real-time, so it would have been quite risky to try a landing with the old (less accurate) data.

        • Good answer--didn't know that. I assume I would have if I had been on the Apollo 10 mission.

        • (as an aside, I have to admit that if I was on the Apollo 10 mission and everything was working out, I'd be tempted to yell "Fuck you, Neil!" into my radio and land on the Moon. What's NASA gonna do?) Watch as you die on the moon because the ascent stage lacked the fuel needed to return the Lunar Module to the Command Module from the surface of the moon.

          What a place to die, though.

          • by adavies42 (746183)
            reminds me of the bit from Apollo 13 where two of them look wistfully out the window at the Moon, and the third says "Gentlemen, what are your intentions?"
      • Consider Apollo. We didn't just fire up the ol' Saturn V and head to the Moon. [Listing of pre-landing testing snipped]

        And the missions you list are just the final testing of Apollo... You also have to consider the basic research and engineering done in the Gemini program. Like the development of rendezvous techniques, flight control techniques, mission design and analysis techniques, etc... etc... Apollo gets all the glory, but a great deal of the real world (as opposed to the ivory tower of the labs an

    • But we won't do it till we spend a lot more time on earth doing the grunt work (engineering and thinking) instead of spending billions on half baked manned missions to nowhere worthwhile.

      Grunt work in the labs and simulators is nothing but an exercise in intellectual masturbation unless and until you go out into the real world and actually see how things work. You don't learn without actually doing.

  • by mark-t (151149) <[markt] [at] [lynx.bc.ca]> on Thursday February 02, 2012 @09:01PM (#38910595) Journal
    A bubble helmet... I can't believe she's wearing a bubble helmet.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday February 02, 2012 @09:02PM (#38910603)

    I had been watching some of the news and documentaries about the group doing the suits. They still had quite a few hurdles to overcome, as the squeeze suit had not been able to provide enough pressure to reach that critical 1/3rd of an atmosphere. The Article does not seem to indicate if they have tackled that, only "proven the technical feasibility", which sounds about where I heard they were last.

    When I saw them plying a big length of rubber on the leg of someone, it looked like something ready to cut off someone's circulation if left on too long. It tripped a few skeptical alarms for me. Will these have to be custom fitted? What happens if someone gains or loses weight(ie: mass)? Will using them for any length of time be uncomfortable or dangerous to people? They seem pretty happy to wander around in public wearing what appears to be a prototype. It just worries me that it might be a lot of hot air.

    The use of Gyros sounds a bit odd, perhaps I am not quite sure of the process in which bones lose density. I would have thought the loss of bone mass is from the lack of gravity bones are subjected to in the first place, not a lack of resistance to movement. Gravity pulls mostly uniformly on people, Gyros probably won't help too much for putting resistance on someone's spine or other bones in the center of one's mass. It might help some for muscle loss though. Has NASA agreed to ship some of these up to the ISS for some testing?

    Its a shame without shuttle like services we might not be able to do too much testing of the technologies we want to use to survive the trip, live on, and return from Mars. There are many that would be a great help.

    • by Fned (43219)

      When I saw them plying a big length of rubber on the leg of someone, it looked like something ready to cut off someone's circulation if left on too long.

      I'm guessing that's because there was an additional 1 atmosphere of pressure on it...

      Will using them for any length of time be uncomfortable or dangerous to people?

      Since the point is to make them less uncomfortable and dangerous than existing suits, I'd posit that the answer will be "no, or they'll go out of business."

      The use of Gyros sounds a bit odd, perhaps I am not quite sure of the process in which bones lose density.

      Nobody is quite sure of the process by which bones lose density in microgravity. It's still kind of a mystery.

      I would have thought the loss of bone mass is from the lack of gravity bones are subjected to in the first place, not a lack of resistance to movement.

      That seems to be the case from experiments, but there hasn't been a method to provide continual resistance to movement before, just periodic exercise.

      Gyros probably won't help too much for putting resistance on someone's spine or other bones in the center of one's mass.

      It might, i

    • by dbIII (701233)

      Will these have to be custom fitted?

      Have you ever heard of a spacesuit that isn't?

      • The shuttle era suits were generic and a set was pulled from stock to fit each astronaut prior to the mission.
        • by dbIII (701233)
          I hate to be one of those "citation please" people, but where did you hear that from? That would simplify things when there's a large number of people that could end up on a mission.
          While we are writing about shuttle era suits, the best comparison I've heard between those and the upcoming "skin tight" designs that only supply air to the helmet is in an episode of the Japanese anime "Rocket Girls" which was written with the help of the JSA. There's a lot of real science in there even if it's aimed at an ea
  • in low or zero g?

    • by PPH (736903)

      Mass is. You've still got to push the inertia of those limbs around.

  • It isn't just for breakfast any more.
  • by wisebabo (638845) on Thursday February 02, 2012 @10:21PM (#38911087) Journal

    Unfortunately it looks like the human species (and maybe most multicellular animals!) is just not suited for long duration space flight and maybe even habitation of other (lesser gravity) worlds.

    http://io9.com/5881355/microgravity-screws-us-up-at-a-cellular-level [io9.com]

    If this turns out to be true (I know they are using fruit flies but Drosphilia are a good proxy for humans for many things) then we're going to have very serious problems in doing anything other than "plant the flag" style missions. At what point is there "enough" gravity to allow the proper development of a human fetus? Half a gravity? A third? (Mars). A sixth? (the moon). That's why probably the single most important next step for manned space flight is probably the addition of a large (capable of handling mice, preferably primates) centrifuge to the ISS. I recall that it was once meant to be part of it but was cancelled. WE NEED THESE QUESTIONS ANSWERED.

    And if the news is bad and humans can't go through a complete life cycle in anything appreciably less than one gee? Then it's time to hack the genome and (possibly) create a new species! While we're at it, we might as add ability to withstand brief (1-2 minutes?) exposure to vacuum (I understand that oxygen comes out of your blood quickly and you can't hold your breath because your lungs will burst. So you pass out in seconds). Also, radiation hardening would be good (some animals like tardigrads can take thousands of times more exposure). The ability to hibernate would be great and I'm sure there are a lot more abilities we could wish for.

    In short maybe Homo Astra (or something like that, I don't know Latin).

    Otherwise our robots will conquer the universe without us (or at least until we can download our minds into them).

    • by arcsimm (1084173)

      In short maybe Homo Astra (or something like that, I don't know Latin).

      I'm leaning towards Abh, myself.

    • If you want ideas on that, the book Endymion by Dan Simmons had that kind of human in the plot.
    • by dkf (304284)

      Unfortunately it looks like the human species (and maybe most multicellular animals!) is just not suited for long duration space flight and maybe even habitation of other (lesser gravity) worlds.

      The problem is, we've currently only got proper data for 1g and (effectively) 0g, and damn little for anything in between. What are the long-term effects at martian gravitation levels? Lunar? 0.1g? If the worst of the effects can be staved off by even 0.1g, we can relatively easily spin craft to achieve that. (1g is more difficult, because of the amount of mass and energy involved.) But first we need the data, as you can't extrapolate or interpolate a curve from just two datapoints...

    • by Twinbee (767046)
      I honestly think if the human race is going to attempt existing in microgravity, then the best way would be to evolve gradually by initially living in a 1G space station, and then for that space station to gradually reduce its rotational speed over the cource of a few centuries or even millenniums.
    • by nerdass (2567549)
      So, some sort of cockroach grizzly bear hybrid... like a giant tardigrad.... you think we should engineer the human race to become giant tardigrads?.... to look like this? http://www.google.com.au/search?q=tardigrades&hl=en&safe=off&client=safari&rls=en&prmd=imvns&tbm=isch&tbo=u&source=univ&sa=X&ei=TPYtT5OwGqS4iQfPxriDDw&ved=0CEcQsAQ&biw=1257&bih=621 [google.com.au] That's one hell of a birth video for our first homo-grad. Can't wait to see that one... and then when som
  • by goldaryn (834427)

    Outer space is a hostile environment for humans, characterized by an airless vacuum, thermal extremes, ionizing radiation and speeding micro meteoroids.

    Don't go there then.

    Yes, subscriptions to my newsletter are available.

  • Another way is to evolve further; be sustainable to the space and and learn to fly.. Reminds me of this from a superman movie,

    "Look- they need machines to fly!"

  • by znrt (2424692)

    airless vacuum

    wow, must be damn low on oxygen that vacuum out there!

  • "Outer space is a hostile environment for humans, characterized by an airless vacuum, thermal extremes, ionizing radiation and speeding micro meteoroids."

    Space Suit Vogue Designers should look at fashion trends in Europe right now . . . how are folks there dressing to survive the hostile environment outside theirs?

    Less well-known are the dangers posed by long-term exposure to microgravity or zero-g conditions, which over time severely saps the strength of astronauts' muscles and bones.

    Sound like they just need some couch potatoes as test subjects. Again, look to Europe for volunteers. During a cold spell, people would rather sit around on their fat, hairy asses, than go outside and freeze their fat, hairy asses.

    Any volunteers to be a paid test subject? All you need to do is sit around for a long period of time, whilst wearin

  • The idea of an unpressurized space suit is not entirely new. The Space activity suit [wikipedia.org] has been developed in the late 1960s and was able to prove the concept. I'm glad it's on the table again. I've seen videos showing someone wearing an SAS running on a treadmill in a big vacuum chamber. However, I can't find it on the net.

    • by jeti (105266)

      I found a relevant video [youtube.com]. If you want to see the suit in action, jump to the 4:00 mark.

  • So long as command gets gold, science blue, and anyone the designers hate get red.

  • If anyone is interested in a good review of the difficulties and challenges of spacesuit design and why the Apollo suits were such then read this book. It is by Nicholas de de Monchaux, ISBN: 978-0262015202.

    It is a good history of the technology in 21 chapters (like the 21 layers of the Apollo suit). What most don't know is they were made by the Playtex corporation. The book is less technical than it could be but is a very good read.

  • Sooo... Weight of the spacesuit is a problem in "microgravity or zero-g conditions", curious.

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