Swimmers around the world are breaking records this year like never before, including at this week's U.S. Olympic trials. Some attribute it to extensive training as athletes prepare to compete at this summer's games in Beijing, China. Others, however, say one factor may be a new space-age swimsuit made of fabric tested at NASA.
"When I hit the water, I feel like a rocket," said world champion swimmer Michael Phelps about the Speedo LZR Racer suit. Phelps, who won six gold medals and two bronze at the last Summer Olympics in Athens, helped develop the much-talked-about swimwear. He and others who have worn the skintight body suit have already set 40 of 44 world records since the LZR Racer debuted in February.
NASA researcher Steve Wilkinson had a hand in the swimsuit's development. The aerospace engineer at NASA's Langley Research Center in Hampton, VA, admits he doesn't know much about swimming or swimwear. What he does know is fluid dynamics and drag reduction, which is the science of making something propel though air or water faster and more efficiently. Wilkinson tested the surface roughness effects of nearly 60 swimsuit fabrics in one of NASA's low-speed wind tunnels to find which ones had the lowest drag. That data helped Speedo create the LZR Racer suit.