The bubble-head space suit is an icon, an emblem of great innovation and achieving big dreams. But it’s also entirely too puffy for its own good. The gas pressure that keeps the astronauts safe inside also restricts movement.
For better or worse, the traditional spacesuit’s days may be numbered.
A sleeker design under development at MIT clings to a person’s body like a pair of running tights. It promises to offer astronauts the same protection but a lot more mobility and comfort.
Dava Newman, professor of aeronautics at MIT, has been chipping away at the design for about a decade now. The latest hurdle that her team has cleared involves creating a material that starts out loose and flexible, but contracts around the person when it is heated slightly.
“These are basically self-closing buckles,” Bradley Holschuh, a post-doctoral researcher in Newman’s lab, said in a release describing the new suit. “Once you put the suit on, you can run a current through all these little features, and the suit will shrink-wrap you, and pull closed.”
Holdschuh, Newman and Edward Obropta described the design in a paper published in June this year.
Image: Jose-Luis Olivares/MIT