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Spacesuit of the future

Illustration of MIT's new spacesuit: lighter and form-fitting, it provides greater freedom of movement

JOSE-LUIS OLIVARES / MITIllustration of MIT’s new spacesuit: lighter and form-fitting, it provides greater freedom of movement JOSE-LUIS OLIVARES / MIT

Astronauts are about to enjoy greater freedom of movement during spacewalks and when venturing onto the surface of the Moon or Mars. A type of space-worthy aerodynamic “second skin” has been designed by researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), coordinated by Professor Dava Newman. The new spacesuit is lighter than the bulky garments of today, which must be filled with gas to create the necessary pressure for human survival in space. The spacesuit of the future will do the job using an elastic material lined with tiny coils that imitate smooth muscle cells. To maintain adequate pressure levels, these coils contract when connected to a heat source aboard the ship. As a result, the astronaut gets shrink-wrapped into a “second skin.” The mechanical counterpressure applied by the suit would enable human survival in space or in zero-gravity environments. When it comes time to remove the suit, another low-voltage electrical charge is enough to loosen up the garment. The coils are made from very thin sheets of a nickel-titanium alloy. This material has the property of maintaining its original shape and returning to the same position after compression. The project was funded by NASA and by the MIT-Portugal program, which brings students and professors from Portuguese universities and MIT together for research on engineering systems.

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