BioSuit Space Suit Vs. Tentacle Monsters

The BioSuit is a radical (and fashionable) redesign of the traditional bulky, Michelin Man-style spacesuit could revolutionize long-term space travel. When I saw this story making the rounds this week, I thought to myself "I'm sure I've seen this before." Sure enough, I checked my NextFest 2006 photo gallery - and there it was.


(Dava Newman with Biosuit at NextFest 2006)

Dava Newman, along with colleague Jeff Hoffman, students and design firm Trotti and Associates, have been at this project for seven years. The prototypes are not yet ready for space travel, but their intent is to be ready for Mars missions in the next ten years.

Why a new space suit design?

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.

Rather than being inflated, the suit relies on mechanical counter-pressure, which involves wrapping layers of material tightly around the body. Skintight but stretches with the body for freedom of movement - that's the trick.

Astronauts are not complainers, but if they were, they'd tell you how exhausting it is to work in a space suit. About 80 percent of the energy they exert is against the suit - to bend it.

The BioSuit will be better at dealing with punctures - wrap them with a bandage. BioSuits could also be engineered to vary in their resistance to astronaut movement, allowing them to exercise while in space.


(Space suits work better, but are less fashionable)

Space suits are highly recommended when fighting it out with tentacled space monsters. In his 1947 story The Disc-Men of Jupiter, Manly Wade Wellman provides a very early use of the word "space-suit:"

In the first place the pressure is considerable and the density is greater than that of the most thoroughly water-saturated air. Then there is a whole chemistry shop full of other elements in with the oxygen and hydrogen, even including some metallic vapors. You'd need a space suit to make any kind of a successful trip outdoors.

Pride of place in first use of "space-suit" goes to John W. Campbell for his 1932 story The Electronic Siege. Update: I found an earlier reference; see the entry for space suit from Schachner and Zagat's 1931 story The Emperor of the Stars. End update.

Update: See also this description (and picture!) of space suit testing from The Shot Into Infinity (1929) by Otto Willi Gail. End update.

Read more about the biosuit at MIT. Also, take a look at the dozen or so NextFext 2006 devices, stories and pictures - since they're obviously still news! Also, Winchell Chung has a terrific collection of space suit pictures at Project Rho.

Scroll down for more stories in the same category. (Story submitted 7/17/2007)

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