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Medicine Space Science

Skin-Tight Bodysuits Could Protect Astronauts From Bone Loss 158

jamie passes along a report about research from MIT's Man-Vehicle Laboratory into using "superhero-style" skinsuits to combat the effects of extended stays in microgravity on bone density in astronauts. (Abstract.) Quoting: "Astronauts lose 1 to 2 percent of their bone mass for each month they spend in space. As far back as the Gemini missions, conditioning exercise regimes have been used to slow the rate of bone loss, but a 2001-2004 NASA-sponsored study showed that crew members aboard the International Space Station were still losing up to 2.7 percent of their interior bone material and 1.7 percent of outer hipbone material for each month they spent in space. ... With stirrups that loop around the feet, the elastic gravity skinsuit is purposely cut too short for the astronaut so that it stretches when put on — pulling the wearer's shoulders towards the feet. In normal gravity conditions on Earth, a human's legs bear more weight than the torso. Because the suit's legs stretch more than the torso section, the wearer's legs are subjected to a greater force — replicating gravity effects on Earth." See? Seven of Nine's outfit was inspired by science after all.
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Skin-Tight Bodysuits Could Protect Astronauts From Bone Loss

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  • by robot256 ( 1635039 ) on Friday November 05, 2010 @02:23PM (#34139540)
    Or does this sound like a bit of a stretch?
  • by p0p0 ( 1841106 ) on Friday November 05, 2010 @02:24PM (#34139554)
    |Well then let's hope they start picking some sexier astronauts.
  • by RapmasterT ( 787426 ) on Friday November 05, 2010 @02:25PM (#34139566)
    If we get hot female astronauts, skin tight bodysuits could protect from boner loss too.

    thank you, thanks...I'll be here all week.
  • by Drakkenmensch ( 1255800 ) on Friday November 05, 2010 @02:25PM (#34139568)
    Zero gravity leather bondage is good for you!
  • Star Trek has known this for years.

  • by orphiuchus ( 1146483 ) on Friday November 05, 2010 @02:27PM (#34139610)
    Its that bone loss in astronauts is usually caused by Predators and Aliens.
  • ...valour? []
    • You mean, Velour? Although I guess it does take Valour to make comments on /. sometimes.

    • s/valour/velour/
      velour [] excerpt: According to costumer designer William Blackburn, the uniforms on Star Trek: The Original Series were made of velour. They were always riding up on the actors, and what came to be known as "Command Gold" was originally "Command Green", but the green velour became varying shades of yellow and light greens under the studio lights.

      Just for fun, I was surprised to see velour has been around for a while:
      history []Velour was invented in 1844 in Lyons (France). The word "Velour" is

  • The article mentions wearing it in your sleep, but is that really necessary? I know I personally don't sleep standing up, so there's probably very little force-of-gravity effects on my legs.

    It could be an issue if it's overly difficult to put on however, as that isn't mentioned.

    • by Nadaka ( 224565 ) on Friday November 05, 2010 @02:33PM (#34139716)

      Or it could be that it isn't as effective as gravity, so to give it an extra bump, the extra 8 hours are needed.

      • by Saishuuheiki ( 1657565 ) on Friday November 05, 2010 @02:44PM (#34139866)

        If that's the reason it brings up other concerns. In particular the 'taller in the morning that at night syndrome'.

        Eg, it's natural for the human body to contract during the day and expand at night. Who knows what the long term effects of not doing this for an extended period of time are. I could see this as being either good or bad

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by sznupi ( 719324 )

          Of course, those other concerns are already disrupted in 0g as is...

        • Who knows what the long term effects of not doing this for an extended period of time are.

          You know who I'd ask a question like that? NASA SCIENTISTS! They study crap like that, and even make nifty apparel using the information they've discovered. If anybody knows, they do...

    • The article mentions wearing it in your sleep, but is that really necessary?

      Wearing the suit to sleep is solely to curb the opportunity for adolescent pranks like swapping the Captain's suit to one with a higher elastic coefficient and watching his limbs collapse like a dead bug.

    • by Machupo ( 59568 ) on Friday November 05, 2010 @02:37PM (#34139786)

      sounds damned uncomfortable

      Probably less uncomfortable than having paperweight bones with serious fracture risks

    • by jandrese ( 485 )
      It doesn't sound like they're going to be like exercise bands or anything, just slightly undersized unitard made out of stretchy material. You probably won't notice it at all 5 minutes after you put it on.
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by tinkerghost ( 944862 )

        You probably won't notice it at all 5 minutes after you put it on.

        Unless they cut it wrong & it gives you a wedgie. I can see the observation tapes now --- 6 months of an astronaut picking their body-stocking out of their ass.

        • by Nethead ( 1563 )

          Read Packing for Mars [] by Mary Roach. Astronauts pick their asses all the time. One of the hardest things about living in zero G is trying to take a decent shit.

  • "Dude! What happened to your bones?"
    'Lost them.'

  • by DigitalSorceress ( 156609 ) on Friday November 05, 2010 @02:52PM (#34139982)

    My first thought is that this completely explains and legitimizes Col. Wilma Deering's wardrobe...

    then I realized this also went for Cmdr. Rogers' and I threw up in my mouth a little.

  • by decipher_saint ( 72686 ) on Friday November 05, 2010 @02:52PM (#34139986)

    Except instead of Rei or Asuka you get Buzz Aldrin... the future is a terrifying place children...

    • by dbIII ( 701233 ) on Saturday November 06, 2010 @02:13AM (#34145594)
      I don't know if Buzz is a bigger hero for doing complex docking calculations without a computer or punching out a lunar landing denier :)
      He can wear whatever he likes.
  • by swb ( 14022 )

    See? Seven of Nine's outfit was inspired by science after all.

    Yes, but it was inspired by reproductive science.

  • by CohibaVancouver ( 864662 ) on Friday November 05, 2010 @03:01PM (#34140116)
    The very important issue here is that while female astronauts are fit & clever, they're rarely hot. Most of them are in their late 30s / early 40s as they've spent 20+ years getting incredible credentials. The ones who have come from the military are somewhat butch, the civilians tend to be somewhat geeky. To wit - []
    • by Kell Bengal ( 711123 ) on Friday November 05, 2010 @03:11PM (#34140236)
      So... you're telling me that a successful, smart, athletic, geeky female isn't attractive?

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by Kjella ( 173770 )

        He's just still in the phase where you drool over 18yo blonde supermodels. Not that they're not pretty to look at, but looking that good is a full time job and you'd probably go crazy with all the health/fitness/makeup/styling/wardrobe/diet/anorexia/whatever stuff they do if you actually lived with one. Not that I'd turn any of them down...

        • by dbIII ( 701233 )

          He's just still in the phase where you drool over 18yo blonde supermodels.

          Don't knock it if he can get them to stay there while he is drooling over them.

      • Only if she's willing to wear a diaper during a five hundred mile drive at the end of which she intends to club someone over the head with a blunt object.
      • by sznupi ( 719324 )

        Seemingly cute, too... []

        (I am not the only one thinking "ze german villain and his accomplice" at the above, right? Anyway, certainly nothing better than to be such villain and have such accomplice)

    • I don't understand. What's wrong with Uhura?
    • by Trip6 ( 1184883 )

      Dude, after enough time in space to cause bone loss you'd fuck anything that moves.

  • Its funny that this type of thing has been in Sci-Fi movies and television shows for decades, and I am thinking that even the original Gemini suits were somewhat form-fitting, and yet we are just now starting to look at the possibility of using these for real

  • Multi-prong approach (Score:5, Interesting)

    by jbeaupre ( 752124 ) on Friday November 05, 2010 @03:02PM (#34140130)

    Suits + exercise should both be used. But if you look at the physiology of bone, it's easy to see why both won't be enough. Bone is continually being destroyed and rebuilt by your body. The proportion of destruction to construction is controlled by stress (ignoring hormones and blood chemistry for the moment).

    Gravity puts stress on your bones even when you lay down. Even in water. Any bit of movement magnifies it. Exercise in space is meant to substitute for this continual stress, but can't provide for continual, low level stress. These suits provide continual, low level stress to the skeleton. But it's still not the same.

    Low level plus high level stress work great together. This is why some schools encourage kids to jump up and down, hard, to strengthen bones by including some high stress each day. But exercise and suits in space won't provide the same level to the entire skeleton that even a few hops on Earth plus a day of video games will.

    There is one more technology used on Earth to selectively strengthen bones. Maybe it can provide the final missing stress. It turns out sound waves stress bone too. Audible sound would be too loud. But ultrasound is commonly used to accelerate bone healing and strengthening. It's not inconceivable that the skin tight suit could incorporate PVDF sheets that could transmit ultrasound into an astronaut's bones, applying it to understressed areas. It could even work as a cap to reduce bone loss in the skull.

    Or just build a big 'ol hamster wheel.

  • So in the picture attached to the article, one of the guys is wearing a nearly transparent white suit. I am not sure which researcher though that making one of the prototypes be transparent was a good idea (probably one fantasizing about female astronauts), but I have ten bucks that says the guy modeling that particular outfit just wanted to get a near-nude picture of himself on the internet for shits and giggles.
  • Thus, NASA is one step closer to creating
    Samus (!)

  • Skin-Tight Bodysuits Could Protect Astronauts From Bone Loss

    "You're going out into space wearing that?!

  • by markdj ( 691222 ) on Friday November 05, 2010 @04:16PM (#34141218)
    So many science fiction stories have shown that one can simulate gravity with centrifugal force by rotating a craft/station. Why don't we do this with the international space station?
    • It would make docking somewhat difficult, to say the least.

    • by Caerdwyn ( 829058 ) on Friday November 05, 2010 @04:54PM (#34141712) Journal
      1. The ring, to avoid problems with the aforementioned Coriolis force, would have to be hundreds of feet in diameter. The expense would be extreme.
      2. The ring, to avoid problems induced by the mass of the astronauts moving from place to place, would have to either be very massive or have a series of weights that always move by themselves to the opposite side of the ring from where a given astronaut is located. Consider what this would do to the bearings of the interface of the nonrotating section if even a slight wobble were introduced. Think of what happens when one of your car's wheels throws a balance-weight. This counterbalance system would be a complex maintenance-hog with a really nasty failure mode
      3. If the station is built without a nonrotating section (a la 2001:A Space Odyssey , docking becomes orders of magnitude more difficult and dangerous. We've already had incidents of damage to the ISS caused by bad docking attempts... now we want to add spin?
      4. In an emergency, you're dealing with an object that has a lot of rotational inertia. How do you take the spin off? Will the ring tear itself apart if a critical structural member is micrometeored, hit with space junk, or suffers a material failure?
      5. How would EVAs to do inspections and repairs work? Sounds like a very high possibility of an astronaut getting slung off into the great black void.

      It's a good idea for the health of the astronauts, but the cost is prohibitive. Science fiction authors don't have to deal with the budgetary process...

    • To generate artifical gravity it is based off of how fast you are spinning and how far you are from the center. The IIS is too small to get 1 G you would have to spin really fast then you hit the problem where there will be a different amount of gravity between your feet and head. According to my HS physics teacher Odyssey in 2001 was too small to generate gravity properly all the blood in the astronauts body would pool at their feet.
    • by Anaerin ( 905998 ) on Friday November 05, 2010 @05:02PM (#34141784)

      As has been mentioned a few times earlier, there are several reasons.

      • You need a (very large) spinning area for the correct amount of inertial force to create a gravitic effect. On a station as small as the ISS, having a rotating section (Which would need to rotate pretty fast for the necessary G forces) would induce a very pronounced "Coriolis effect", which would have the astronauts within constantly throwing up and uncomfortable (at the very least).
      • The interface between the rotating and non-rotating sections would be extremely difficult to make and keep secure. Any mechanical failure would lead to rapid destruction of the entire station, as the several tonnes of rotating mass will maintain it's inertia and rip itself, and the station, apart against the seized bearings or other failed part.
      • Given that well over three quarters of the experimentation on the ISS is related to behavior of items in microgravity, to remove that microgravity would remove most of the incentive to study anything on-board.
      • Spinning an area of the ship like that would create a gyroscopic effect, which could severely destabilize the ISS' orbit without constant correction, which would use large amounts of fuel.
      • Having just one spinning section would also, by the friction in the interface parts, cause the stationary section to begin turning with the spinning section. Or, if the spinning section is spinning against the stationary section, a counter-rotation in the "stationary" section. The "Fix" to this would be to have two "Spinning" sections, which counter-rotate, but this would mean there would have to be massive upgrades to in-between sections to handle the torque, and of course, twice the potential problems.

      Or, they could put the astronauts in small spandex suits and swap them out every few months to recover. It's not as if staying on the ISS is a permanent position (yet), after all.

  • by sgt scrub ( 869860 ) <saintium@ y a h o o .com> on Friday November 05, 2010 @04:17PM (#34141226)

    or should us "big boned" people just become astronauts?

  • > See? Seven of Nine's outfit was inspired by science after all.

    That was a suit? I thought it was painted on?

    Wonder if this suit could help osteoporosis sufferers?
  • Now their will be a legitimate reason for the Battlestar Galactica characters to where skin-tight uniforms in the new Syfy series. Tighten the suits and water down the writing. :( All in the quest to prevent bone density loss.

  • I totally had this idea for a sci-fi story I was writing...I wasn't sure it was well-founded in science, it just seemed like a good idea. Turns out I rule.
  • The Russian cosmonauts wore the TNK V-1, or "Penguin suit", which used elastic bands that would force the knees to bend up to the chest unless the wearer exerted force.
  • Really? TF! (Score:2, Insightful)

    Thank the heavens they've finally worked it all out, at last! Can you believe, all of this time, we actually thought skin already did that?

The next person to mention spaghetti stacks to me is going to have his head knocked off. -- Bill Conrad