July 17, 2007
Can an engineer bring sexy backto the future?
Dava Newman, a professor of astronautics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, just might if her new space suit design makes it off the launching pad.
Yesterday she unveiled the BioSuit, a skintight, next-generation space suit prototype that she and a team of researchers have spent seven years developing.
The new suit, which Newman is modeling here, could make space exploration safer and easierand maybe a little more fashion forwardthanks to specially reinforced fabrics.
Traditional space suits are too heavy and ungainly to meet the challenges of future space travel, which will likely require more mobility and greater comfort, Newman said.
"It's a whole different ballgame when we go to the moon or Mars and we have to go back to walking and running or loping," she said in a press statement.
"You can't do much bending of the arms or legs in that [old] type of suit."
The key to her team's new design is its Spider-Man-like fit, she explained.
A conventional space suit forms a pressurized envelope around an astronaut to protect her from the vacuum of space. The BioSuit achieves a similar effect by using supertight material to exert pressure on the astronaut's body, while also affording greater flexibility, Newman said.
The suit isn't ready for use in space yet, but Newman expects the BioSuit to be ready for liftoff in about ten years.
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Photograph by Donna Coveney/MIT