The Experimental Design of a Mobile Pressure Suit by Arthur Saul Iberall
Fifty years ago, America went into space
click into: Lines of Non-Extension
Class: Manned. Type: Space Suits. Nation: USA. Manufacturer: Rand.
Developmental partial pressure suit concept by Arthur S Iberall while at the Rand Corporation.
Arthur S. Iberall developed the Lines of Non-Extension concept/suit at the National Bureau of Standards in 1947. The physics, physiology, and orthopedics that were required to understand the major forces exerted by a human body on clothing and how the forces could be distributed with a woven network were presented to David Clark in 1951 at the Navy's request. At this demonstration, the full pressure suit was pressurized to 2 psi. In 1955, while working at the Rand Development Corp, Iberall built the second prototype and demonstrated it under 3.75 psi to the Air Force at the infamous 1955 meeting that led to development of the first true space suits for the X-15 project. Dave Clark patented the woven network as Linknet and went on to use it for the X-15 and Gemini space suits. Iberall's technical description of the Lines of Non-Extension Suit was not allowed to be published until 15 years later (Iberall, A.S., "The experimental design of a mobile pressure suit", Journal of Basic Engineering, Transactions of the ASME, June 1970, p. 251-264.
click into: The use of lines of non-extension
click into: History of Space Suits
click into: Skintight Space Suit is "more Spiderman, less John Glenn
It remains to be seen whether astronauts will actually get to Mars by 2020 (NASA's stated goal), but if they do, they'll probably look better doing it.
In the 40 years that humans have been traveling in space, they haven't changed suits. That is, astronauts have always worn gas-pressurized outfits that are bulky, heavy and motion-limiting.
Engineers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology are working on a sartorial solution, a sleek BioSuit of nylon and spandex that looks more like something Spider-Man might wear.
The focus is on improved mobility, said Dava Newman, a professor of aeronautics and astronautics at MIT. The current spacesuits are OK for astronauts when they are, say, working on a solar panel of the International Space Station, but they are impracticably clunky for planetary ramblings.
“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,” Newman said.
Key to the BioSuit's design are non-extension lines built into the tight, stretchy fabric. These lines correspond with lines on the skin that don't extend when moving limbs, and thus serve as a sort of stiff exoskeleton of support while still providing maximum mobility and body flexibility.
The suit's tight fit exerts pressures similar to that on Earth, reducing the need for artificial gas pressurization and providing a new safety feature. When a traditional gas-pressurized suit is punctured, the astronaut must immediately return to a safe environment. With the BioSuit, a puncture can be wrapped like a bandage; the rest of the suit is unaffected.
Prototypes of the fashionable BioSuit aren't ready yet for space testing, but they seem to be fairly far down the runway.
One giant leap for space fashion: MIT team designs sleek, skintight spacesuit
In the 40 years that humans have been traveling into space, the suits they wear have changed very little. The bulky, gas-pressurized outfits give astronauts a bubble of protection, but their significant mass and the pressure itself severely limit mobility.
Dava Newman, a professor of aeronautics and astronautics and engineering systems at MIT, wants to change that.
Newman is working on a sleek, advanced suit designed to allow superior mobility when humans eventually reach Mars or return to the moon. Her spandex and nylon BioSuit is not your grandfather's spacesuit--think more Spiderman, less John Glenn.
Traditional bulky spacesuits "do not afford the mobility and locomotion capability that astronauts need for partial gravity exploration missions. We really must design for greater mobility and enhanced human and robotic capability," Newman says.
Newman, her colleague Jeff Hoffman, her students and a local design firm, Trotti and Associates, have been working on the project for about seven years. Their prototypes are not yet ready for space travel, but demonstrate what they're trying to achieve--a lightweight, skintight suit that will allow astronauts to become truly mobile lunar and Mars explorers.
Newman anticipates that the BioSuit could be ready by the time humans are ready to launch an expedition to Mars, possibly in about 10 years. Current spacesuits could not handle the challenges of such an exploratory mission, Newman says.
A New Approach
Newman's prototype suit is a revolutionary departure from the traditional model. Instead of using gas pressurization, which exerts a force on the astronaut's body to protect it from the vacuum of space, the suit relies on mechanical counter-pressure, which involves wrapping tight layers of material around the body. The trick is to make a suit that is skintight but stretches with the body, allowing freedom of movement.
Over the past 40 years, spacesuits have gotten progressively heavier, and they now weigh in at about 300 pounds. That bulk -- much of which is due to multiple layers and the life support system coupled with the gas-pressurization -- severely constrains astronauts' movements. About 70 to 80 percent of the energy they exert while wearing the suit goes towards simply working against the suit to bend it.
"You can't do much bending of the arms or legs in that type of suit," Newman says.
When an astronaut is in a micro-gravity environment (for example, doing a spacewalk outside the International Space Station), working in such a massive suit is manageable, but, as Newman says, "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."
Another advantage to her BioSuit is safety: if a traditional spacesuit is punctured by a tiny meteorite or other object, the astronaut must return to the space station or home base immediately, before life-threatening decompression occurs. With the BioSuit, a small, isolated puncture can be wrapped much like a bandage, and the rest of the suit will be unaffected.
Newman says the finished BioSuit may be a hybrid that incorporates some elements of the traditional suits, including a gas-pressured torso section and helmet. An oxygen tank can be attached to the back.
The MIT researchers are focusing on the legs and arms, which are challenging parts to design. In the Man-Vehicle Lab at MIT, students test various wrapping techniques, based on 3D models they've created of the human in motion and how the skin stretches during locomotion, bending, climbing or driving a rover.
Key to their design is the pattern of lines on the suit, which correspond to lines of non-extension (lines on the skin that don't extend when you move your leg). Those lines provide a stiff "skeleton" of structural support, while providing maximal mobility.
To be worn in space, the BioSuit must deliver close to one-third the pressure exerted by Earth's atmosphere, or about 30 kPa (kilopascals). The current prototype suit exerts about 20 KPa consistently, and the researchers have gotten new models up to 25 to 30 KPa.
Staying in Shape
The suits could also help astronauts stay fit during the six-month journey to Mars. Studies have shown that astronauts lose up to 40 percent of their muscle strength in space, but the new outfits could be designed to offer varying resistance levels, allowing the astronauts to exercise against the suits during a long flight to Mars.
Although getting the suits into space is the ultimate goal, Newman is also focusing on Earth-bound applications in the short term, such as athletic training or helping people walk.
The new BioSuit builds on ideas developed in the 1960s and 1970s by Paul Webb, who first came up with the concept for a "space activity suit," and Saul Iberall, who postulated the lines of non-extension. However, neither the technology nor the materials were available then.
"Dr. Webb had a great idea, before its time. We're building on that work to try to make it feasible," says Newman.
The project was initially funded by the NASA Institute for Advanced Concepts.
Photo / Donna Coveney
Elizabeth A. Thomson
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The White House made the announcement in an Oct. 16 press release.
The position of NASA deputy administrator has been vacant since Lori Garver stepped down in September 2013 to become general manager of the Air Line Pilots Association. News of Newman’s potential nomination to the post was first reported Oct. 8 by NASA Watch.
Garver praised the Obama administration's pick to succeed her.
"I am so pleased to hear of Dr. Newman's nomination for NASA Deputy Administrator. Her nomination shows the Administration's strong continued commitment to NASA and our government's investment in development of cutting edge technology and innovation," Garver said in a statement to SpaceNews. "Dava will add a unique perspective to the agency and a fresh look at the space program at a critical time."
Newman joined the faculty of MIT’s Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics, informally known as AeroAstro, shortly after receiving a doctorate in aerospace biomedical engineering from the department in 1992. Her research has focused on how humans can more effectively work in weightlessness and reduced gravity environments.
Newman is best known for research on form-fitting spacesuits that use mechanical counterpressure to provide greater freedom of motion for astronauts than conventional suits. “Ultimately, the big advantage is mobility, and a very lightweight suit for planetary exploration,” Newman said in a Sept. 18 press release from MIT about her group’s research.
She has also been involved in science and technology policy. She has a master’s degree in technology and policy from MIT and since 2003 has served as director of its Technology and Policy Program.
In 2008, she contributed to a report on the future of human spaceflight prepared by the Space, Policy, and Society Research Group at MIT. That report, completed before the Obama administration took office, endorsed the then-impending retirement of the space shuttle and an extension of the international space station to 2020. It also called for a “balance” in resources for exploration of the Moon, Mars and other destinations.
More recently, Newman served on the technical panel that supported the National Academies’ Committee on Human Spaceflight. That panel helped develop several different “pathways” for human space exploration, all leading to the long-term goal of humans on the surface of Mars, featured in the committee’s final report published in June.
If confirmed, Newman would be the second faculty member from MIT’s AeroAstro department to join NASA’s upper echelons in the last year. In March, NASA named David Miller, a professor of aeronautics and astronautics there, as the agency’s chief technologist.