MIT engineering professor Dava Newman models a concept for a new type of space suit she and her colleagues have been developing. Instead of a puffy balloon, as astronauts wear today, the Bio-Suit fits like a second skin, relying on the suit itself to provide pressure instead of air inside the suit. Researchers hope that a suit like this would make it easier to work in space or on the surface of the Moon or Mars, allowing astronauts to accomplish more with less exertion. [Donna Coveney/MIT]
When Gemini 9 astronaut Eugene Cernan took the second American spacewalk almost 45 years ago, he darn near didn't make it back. Working in his stiff, pressurized spacesuit was much harder than anyone had expected. Cernan was quickly drenched in sweat, and his visor fogged up so badly that he couldn't see. His work was cut short, and he had to feel his way back into the spacecraft.
Better tools and training have fixed most of the problems, but walking in space is still hard work. And part of the problem is the spacesuit itself. It's basically a pressurized balloon with a person inside. The pressure makes the suit stiff, which makes it hard for the astronaut to move.
But building on research conducted in the 1960s, engineers at MIT are working on a new type of suit that should make moving a lot easier.
The concept is known as the "Bio-Suit," and it would work like a second skin. Pressure would come not from a layer of air around the astronaut, but from the suit itself, which would fit like a Spandex bodysuit -- only tighter. The innermost layer would be the tightest, and might even be sprayed on. The outer layers would provide additional protection. A puncture or tear wouldn't be life-threatening because the astronaut's oxygen wouldn't leak away.
Because the suit would be much more flexible, it should make working in space or on the surface of the Moon or Mars much easier -- something Gene Cernan most certainly would appreciate.
Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2010
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