For the last seven years, MIT engineers have been working on designing a new space suit, one that is not bulky and features full range of motion for the astronaut. The big idea behind the BioSuit is a technology that relies not on gas pressurization, as in today’s bubble suits, but on “mechanical counter-pressure”:
In the 40 years that humans have been traveling into space, the suits they wear have changed very little. The bulky, gas-pressurized outfits give astronauts a bubble of protection, but their significant mass and the pressure itself severely limit mobility.
Dava Newman, a professor of aeronautics and astronautics and engineering systems at MIT, wants to change that.
Traditional bulky spacesuits “do not afford the mobility and locomotion capability that astronauts need for partial gravity exploration missions. We really must design for greater mobility and enhanced human and robotic capability,” Newman says…
Key to their design is the pattern of lines on the suit, which correspond to lines of non-extension (lines on the skin that don’t extend when you move your leg). Those lines provide a stiff “skeleton” of structural support, while providing maximal mobility.
The suits could also help astronauts stay fit during the six-month journey to Mars. Studies have shown that astronauts lose up to 40 percent of their muscle strength in space, but the new outfits could be designed to offer varying resistance levels, allowing the astronauts to exercise against the suits during a long flight to Mars.