Space is a dangerous place with its airless vacuum personality, extreme unsurvivable cold, ionizing radiation and warp speed micro-meteoroids. However, less well known are the dangers of over-exposure to zero-g conditions. Over time, zero-g conditions can severely zap the strength of an astronaut.
Aerospace engineer and senior member of the technical staff at The Charles Draper Laboratory’s Human Centered Engineering Group or TCDLHCG for those pressed for time, Kevin R. Duda had this to say about space walking:
“When people go into space, they encounter weightlessness, which provides less resistance to their muscles and skeleton, causing muscle atrophy and bone loss.”
Dava Newman, a professor of aeronautics and astronautics at MIT, spoke about low gravity environments and astronauts, saying:
“Astronauts who are exposed to low gravity for long periods suffer from what we call musculoskeletal de-conditioning. This involves a 30-percent rise in muscle atrophy, a 40 percent reduction in muscle strength, as well as 1 to 2 percent loss in bone-mineral density each month.”
Having said that, Duda, Newman and a team of other researchers are working on a project to develop a new spacesuit that can help combat these “space threats” as well as combat some other similar problems such as bulk and weight.
Txchnologist.com says In the future, when astronauts prepare for EVAs also known as Extravehicular Activities, they will be able to sport new suits that are much lighter, flexible and less bulky than previous suits.
Current standard suits encapsulate users in full pressure environments that allow them to breathe fully without being exposed to the dangerous vacuum of space. However, the drawback of these current suits is their resistance to movement, which causes users to tire much quicker than they should.
The aforementioned research team led by Newman is currently combatting the current suits with a new “Squeeze Suit”. The new suits would give users a much better range of motion. The currently patented “BioSuit” is a mechanical counterpressure suit that will supply oxygen to the user’s helmet, but would elsewhere use tight bands to compress the body at certain points to counteract external pressure.
The BioSuit is constructed of a fabric made of spandex, nylon, and other plastic materials to replace compressed air, which, in turn, makes the suit more lightweight and maneuverable.
Newman commented on the the creation of the suit, saying:
“So far we have proven the technical feasibility of the BioSuit. We would need another three to five years of funding to produce a flight-worthy system.”
In addition to being used in space, these new suits could have several applications right here on Earth. Researchers say children suffering from cerebral palsy could benefit from wearing these compression suits. The “motion-control gyroscopes” could help keep a patient from moving in an otherwise unsafe manner or help them correct movements that would otherwise harm them. Duda had this to say:
“The units could be programmed to help you learn, or re-learn, specific motions.”