January 11, 2014
New Skinsuit Could Protect Astronauts From The Effects Of Weightlessness
Brett Smith for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online
Far from being a fashion statement, the European Space Agency (ESA) has unveiled the Skinsuit, which is scientifically designed to mitigate some of the negative effects weightlessness has on the body.
In the weightlessness of space, bone and muscle wither as microgravity puts very little strain on these tissues. Some astronauts have been known to grow nearly 3 inches as their spines lengthen in this environment. Many astronauts also suffer from backaches during their missions as a result of the unique gravity. Even after returning to Earth, astronauts need to stay fit as they are four times more likely to suffer a slipped disc.
The Skinsuit was specifically created with a bi-directional weave made to offset the lack of gravity by compressing the body from the shoulders to the feet with a force similar to Earth’s gravity. Current prototypes of the suit are fashioned from spandex although new materials are currently being tested, the space agency said.
“Getting the suit to fit correctly was challenging,” said Simon Evetts, a team leader in the Medical Projects and Technology Unit at the European Astronaut Centre. “We needed to create a suit that is both tight-fitting but comfortable to wear, while creating the right amount of force in the right places.”
The suit is actually a collaboration among the ESA’s Space Medicine Office, Kings College in London and MIT. ESA astronaut Andreas Mogensen is scheduled to be the first to wear the Skinsuit in space in 2015, when he will assess it from a functional perspective.
The ESA added that the snug-fitting suit also has potential for use on Earth.
“If the technology is effective in space, it could help the elderly and many people with lower-back problems on Earth,” Evetts said. “Additionally, Skinsuit technology could improve the support garments currently used for conditions like cerebral palsy.”
Image 2 (below): Testing the Skinsuit in weightlessness. Credit: NASA–Waldie