Bulky, gas-pressurized spacesuits currently give astronauts a lot of protection, but they weigh about 300 pounds, exerting both mass and pressure that limit mobility. Dava Newman, MIT professor of aeronautics and astronautics, has designed a sleek, form-fitting suit that will allow superior mobility. The spandex and nylon BioSuit was designed by Newman, colleague Jeff Hoffman, MIT students, and a local design firm with funding from NASAÃs Institute for Advanced Concepts.
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 to allow freedom of movement. Currently, about 70 to 80 percent of the energy exerted by astronauts while wearing a spacesuit goes towards simply working against the suit to bend it.
If a traditional spacesuit is punctured by an object, the astronaut must return to the spacecraft or station 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. And although getting the suits into space is the ultimate goal, Newman is also focusing on Earth-bound applications such as athletic training or helping people walk.