A lightweight, collapsible hyperbaric chamber/airlock system has been proposed as a portable unit for treating decompression sickness. Copies of the system could be stowed compactly and deployed when needed in settings in which decompression sickness is expected to occur occasionally but in which conventional heavy, rigid hyperbaric chambers are not available. Such settings include aviation, submarine operations, diving, and spaceflight.
The system (see figure) would include a main hyperbaric chamber and an integral airlock, both capable of maintaining an interior pressure of 2 atm (0.2 MPa) for one patient and a medical attendant. One would gain access to the main hyperbaric chamber via the hatches at the ends of the airlock. The central hatch ring at the junction of the airlock and the main chamber would be penetrated by hermetically sealed conduits that would provide air, medical oxygen, electrical power, and communication from external equipment to both the airlock and the main chamber.
The walls of the main chamber and the airlock would be made of multiple layers of lightweight, flexible materials, and could be folded to a small volume. Included among the wall layers would be pressure bladders, plus flexible circumferential and longitudinal straps that would afford the strength to withstand pressurization. The airlock hatch ring would be sized to fit within the central hatch ring to minimize storage volume. An internal skeleton of interconnected low-pressure inflatable toroids (reminiscent of an inflatable raft) would maintain the main chamber and airlock in the expanded condition when the main chamber, the airlock, or both were not pressurized, thereby facilitating entry and egress. The inflatable toroids could also serve as a cushion for the patient during hyperbaric treatment.
The central and airlock hatch rings would serve as seal lands for the central and airlock hatches. The hatches would include rings, to which would be attached strap and pressure-bladder layers like those of the chamber walls. The
hatches would be elliptical so that they (rotated 90°) could fit through the elliptical hatch openings to facilitate access. The hatches would be held in place temporarily by magnets until pressurization seated them firmly and compressed the hatch seals.
This work was done by William C. Schneider, James P. Locke, and Horacio M. De La Fuente of Johnson Space Center. For further information, access the Technical Support Package (TSP) free on-line at www.nasatech.com/tsp under the Mechanics category.
This invention is owned by NASA, and a patent application has been filed. Inquiries concerning nonexclusive or exclusive license for its commercial development should be addressed to
the Patent Counsel
Johnson Space Center
Refer to MSC-23076.