MIT’s futuristic spacesuit works like shrink wrap

What if astronauts squeezed into lightweight, stretchy suits before venturing into space? MIT researchers are proposing just that.

The theoretical suits would be made from coils that spring back to a "remembered" shape when heated -- so they could stretch out enough for astronauts to slip them on, but then contract into a suit tight enough to keep them alive in space.

“With conventional spacesuits, you’re essentially in a balloon of gas that’s providing you with the necessary one-third of an atmosphere [of pressure,] to keep you alive in the vacuum of space,” Dava Newman, a professor of astronautics at MIT and head of the suit's design team, said in a statement. “We want to achieve that same pressurization, but through mechanical counterpressure — applying the pressure directly to the skin, thus avoiding the gas pressure altogether."

For now, the suit is just a cuff -- a tourniquet that hangs loose, but tightens around the arm when exposed to a certain temperature. But tests show that the pressure it tightens to is equal to what a spacesuit would need to maintain.

The big advantage is increased mobility, which will be important in future space missions. Just imagine trying to explore the surface of Mars in a cumbersome, gas-filled suit.

But keeping this new material pressurized indefinitely might be tricky. The easiest way would be keeping the suit at a high heat for as long as an astronaut wore it -- but that would mean carrying around a power supply to keep it warm, and would overheat the space explorer in no time at all. Newman and her team are investigating other possibilities.

For now, their proof-of-concept tourniquet has more immediate applications on Earth. It could be used for emergency triage, the researchers suggest, providing instant, hands-free pressure on serious wounds.



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