Permanent Human Settlement of the Earth, Space and Ocean Frontiers

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Space Suits II

Ralph Buttigieg
Sydney, NSW

Recent discussions regarding the old Major Matt Mason play dolls brought up memories of his Moon suit. The suit was not some designers fantasy but was based on work NASA was doing at the time. The Encyclopedia Astronautica describes it as:

Class: Manned. Type: Space Suits. Nation: USA. Manufacturer: Grumman.

A favourite of Life magazine in the 1960's, this Grumman / Space General design for extended lunar surface operations allowed the astronaut to withdraw his arms from the flexible manipulators and work within the pressurised 'cabin' of the can enclosing his upper torso and head.

Now I'm skeptical about the practicality of pressure suits for space colonization. I regard them as the equivalent of the old hard hat diving suits, but there is something to be said for a space suit that allows you to scratch your nose!

An alternative to pressure suits is the mechanical counter pressure suit and progress continues to be made:

Newman and colleague Jeffrey Hoffman, a former NASA astronaut and spacewalker, have been working with students and the design firm Trotti and Associates for seven years to build a viable BioSuit.

A current prototype of the suit consistently exerts pressures of about 20 kilopascals on its wearer but newer models have reached pressures of up to 25 to 30 kilopascals, which is about one-third that of the Earth's atmosphere and the target for spaceworthy BioSuit, researchers said. A fully functional suit could be made ready for spaceflight in about 10 years, they added.

At the heart of the BioSuit is mechanical counter pressure, which uses tightly wrapped layers of material that are both flexible and protective to the astronaut inside. The suit's layers are wrapped in a meticulous fashion -- based on three-dimensional maps of the human body in motion -- to provide structural support while maintaining mobility, researchers said.

If nothing else is the Biosuit is far more stylish then current space wear.