NTB: What impact, if any, will the proposed cancellation of the Constellation program have on spacesuit development at NASA?
Hill: Well, that’s a difficult question to answer. In an ideal world, assuming the funding is similar to what we have now, the effect would be minimal because the very nature of our architecture, to be able to handle all different mission requirements within a single suit architecture for a single mission – the modular aspect of it – the fact that we design our architecture to be modular and be reconfigurable in a multi-destination mission, positions us ideally for this flexible path.
When you think about it, the environment around an asteroid is very similar to that of the moon. You’ve got very sharp dust, very low gravity, no atmosphere, and the thermal extremes are very, very similar. So in that aspect, it’s the same. You still have to launch and land, so that aspect is the same. And we were designing our architecture to go to Mars eventually anyway, so that aspect is the same. So, as the old saying goes, “The more things change, the more they stay the same.” That’s how we think we’re positioned.
NTB: Do you envision any of the technology you’re developing for spacesuits having other potential commercial applications?
Hill: You know, that’s a good question in as much as a lot of that you can’t predict, because you don’t go into it with commercial aspects in mind. Now, having said that, currently we’re using a lot of the commercial aspects in our designs. For example, the fire protection cloth in garments, we’ve been using Nomex for years and years, but now there are companies out there designing fireproof fabrics for firefighters that are t-shirt-weight material. We’re looking at incorporating that type of stuff.
With regard to our tech development – our technology development program, where we’re looking at developing thermal aerogels and flexible aerogels, then you expect them to be used in any number of applications here on Earth. Because if you can make aerogels that are highly efficient and flexible, such that they don’t break apart when placed in tension, or even compression, then you’ve got all kinds of aspects for any type of environment here on Earth where you need to have thermal management. That’s just one example.
We’re also looking at lunar applications of heads-up displays that you can use inside the helmet. That could be used by the military, or even by the everyday Joe, depending on what our everyday lives with electronics is going to be 10, 15, 20 years down the road.
To download this interview as a podcast, click here.