In the beginning, safety outweighed comfort in spacecraft designs for human space travel. Capsules like Gemini and Apollo were small, and most of the flight activities were performed while the crew was strapped to their seats. Later, NASA devoted more attention to understanding how a spacecraft could provide comfort as well as safety and function to astronauts. NASA examined the neutral body posture (NBP), or the posture the human body naturally assumes in microgravity.
NASA’s first view of NBP came from Skylab, where photos of crewmembers were taken while they physically relaxed in the microgravity of space. The photos showed that the body automatically entered into a particular posture with certain angles made by the joints, and certain positions assumed by the limbs. By the 1980s, NASA had documented characteristics of NBP in the Man-Systems Integration Standards (MSIS) NASA-STD-3000. The MSIS specified ways to design spaceflight systems that support human health, safety, and productivity.
Since Skylab, NASA has significantly built on its human posture research. A Space Shuttle study showed a range of NBPs for individuals. In another study, researchers found astronauts’ spines lengthened in zero gravity on the International Space Station (ISS) — information that has influenced the size and design of the Orion Multi Purpose Crew Vehicle.
In 2005, Nissan Motor Company turned to NASA’s NBP research as a starting point to develop a new driver’s seat for its vehicles. Like an astronaut, the driver of a car needs to be safe and comfortable to operate the vehicle efficiently for extended periods of time. Because Nissan observed that a person’s posture played a direct role in how physically tired he or she became while driving, the company decided to use NASA’s NBP as a benchmark for a comfortable, balanced posture.
In 2006, Nissan published the results of its first study on the new seat with a two-piece backrest to maintain NBP. The results confirmed that the seat supported the spine and areas from the pelvis to the chest, and improved blood flow. The driver’s posture remained near NBP while seated, and fatigue was reduced during long-term sitting. The new seat design is articulated, with two sections connected by a flexible joint, and provides proper continuous support from the pelvis to the thorax. It also keeps the spine shape naturally in the sitting posture.
Nissan debuted the seat in the 2013 Altima, and the company now has plans to include it in many upcoming Nissan and Infiniti vehicles. The technology will be applied not only to the driver’s and front passenger’s seats, but in the rear seats as well. Nissan believes the seats will make long car rides more pleasant for both drivers and passengers because a person’s muscles will work less when sitting in either the six-way adjustable driver seat, the four-way adjustable front passenger seat, or the rear seats.
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