Space Flight Fashion
When you think of a space suit you probably imagine the bulky, white things that make astronauts look a little like the Michelin man.
But scientists at MIT have a different vision: skin tight space suits that look like they've been shrink wrapped onto astronauts' bodies.
The reason that conventional space suits are so puffy is that they're pumped full of atmospheric gases to create enough pressure to keep astronauts alive in the vacuum of space. Without the pressurized environment, the vacuum of space causes human flesh to expand to about twice its size.
And, of course, astronauts need the oxygen to breath. Anyhow, the MIT suit would dispense with the bulky version in favor of a suit that applies pressure directly to the skin. The scientists have been designing prototype garments with coils that respond to heat by contracting, pulling the garment tight.
How might this work in a skin clinging space suit? One idea is to create a suit that naturally loosens at a relatively lower temperature and tightens at a higher temperature. The problem then becomes how to keep the coils at the right temperature so that they stay tight when worn in space.
Heating the suit would use up lots of energy and also make astronauts uncomfortably hot. So the solution might be to heat the coils enough to make them contract and then lock in place. And when the astronaut is ready to remove the suit, the coils will need to unlock and expand.
So how close are we to shrink wrapping astronauts? Hard to say. It will likely take years of further research and testing. But if the new suits do come to pass, they could provide space explorers with much greater mobility.
"Futuristic Skintight Spacesuits May Shrink-Wrap Astronauts" (Yahoo)