Building a better spaceuit

It is no secret that spacesuits are heavy. The full spacesuit worn on the space shuttle, including life support system, clocked in at 310 pounds. At the same time, these suits are bulky, and hard to move around in. So researchers are looking for alternatives—skinnier suits that would weigh less, be more maneuverable, and maybe even have the bonus of helping to support the muscles and skeletal system, which can take a beating during prolonged periods of weightlessness.

Txchnologist has a story up right now about the quest for a better spacesuit. It includes a in-depth look at the BioSuit, which Pesco wrote about here back in 2007. But there are other approaches being explored, as well.

One concept I found particularly interesting might not do much to solve the bulk issue, but could make a big difference for astronaut muscle tone.

In this case, the engineers hope to retain astronauts’ muscle and bone strength by affixing cell phone-size gyroscopes to their arms and legs to imitate gravity. “The property of these control-moment gyroscopes is that they resist changes in angular momentum and thus could apply a couple of pounds of force (torque, in reality),” [researcher Kevin Duda] says.

With a pair of the rechargeable battery-powered units on each appendage—forearms, upper arms, calves and thighs—the astronauts would feel resistance to motion that would to some degree simulate that of normal gravitational force. When floating in deep space or near asteroids, the gyroscopic units, perhaps installed in backpacks, could help astronauts to stabilize their attitude so as to “maintain orientation toward the task at hand to boost operational efficiency.”



  1. Maneuverable suits remind me of this Brazilian song:

    “The moon, with such gravity where men float, deserved the visit not of military but of ballet dancers, and of you and me.”

    How cool it would be if the Chinese listen to that!

  2. My dad was one of the engineers on this project  at IL in the 60s…they had a mixed bag of folks, Brooklyn tailors, Advanced Institute topologists, scientists who refused to wear shoes,  Military generals, experimental machinists…they even had a resident bongo drum player.
    This was a million years ago, so i guess it’s okay to say…but more than a few brides went down the aisle wearing the scrapped materials! We were just kids but i remember meeting a lot of these folks…and one thing i know is that they LOVED their work, were super excited and were wicked good on slide rules!  The first time i ever saw my Dad cry was as he watched that landing.

  3. Might those gyroscopically stabilized suits have applications for physical therapies on ye olde earth?

    1. Interesting idea. They actually already do have handheld gyroscopic devices (for example, the Powerball) which are claimed to have various therapeutic effects.

  4. Appropo of this, design students at the University of Minnesota are hard at work on a new space suit in the College of Design class “Apparel Design Studio IV”. They are working on incorporating control and feedback features into the suit, using electronics in the material, along with the regular protective features. They will present their design to NASA later this year. There’s a good write up here:

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