Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Building a better spacesuit

They're working on an exciting new kind of spacesuit. Or should we start calling them "planetsuits"?

Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) are edging closer to a spaceworthy astronaut garment that replaces the bulky traits of current, gas-pressurized versions with flexibility and mobility. Dubbed BioSuit, the spacesuit design relies on mechanical counter pressure rather than the stiff pressurized vessels employed by astronauts in space today.


NASA's current Extravehicular Mobility Unit (EMU) spacesuits, as well as their Russian Orlan counterparts, surround their astronaut wearers in a stiff, pressurized vessel containing breathable air. Added outer layers of material, as well as a backpack-mounted life support system, can further restrict the spacesuit's mobility and require astronauts to spend the bulk of their energy fighting their own garments while toiling in space.

Both the EMU and Orlan spacesuits are designed for work in Earth orbit, not for use on planetary surfaces like those of the Moon or Mars, where walking -- not floating -- will be key.

I don't think "BioSuit" is a good name, though. I suggest calling them "exploration suits", because that's what they are truly designed for.

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