Forget those big, clunky things. Researchers have designed the space suits we could eventually wear on Mars, and they look like something straight out of J.J. Abrams' Star Trek or Prometheus.
There are still a lot of kinks to work out before we actually send a manned mission to the Red Planet, but MIT Professor Dava Newman is trying to make sure that once they actually figure out the logistics, those future-astronauts will have a suit that is worthy of the journey.
Newman, along with designers Gui Trotti and Lino Dainese, have taken some long-abandoned concepts from the 1960s and 1970s (and even the late 1800s) to put together the form-fitting BioSuit design that could finally succeed in replacing the cumbersome, clunky Extravehicular Mobility Units (EMU) that astronauts are currently using.
As explained in a lengthy feature at Wired, the design basically creates a “mini airplane cabin” around the wearer to regulate pressure, which is created by semi-rigid ribs traced all around the body to provide counter pressure —while still offering up a lot more motion and freedom than the EMUs. The suit is held together with 140,000 stitches and over a thousand feet of ribbing. They can also be patched easily in case of a rip, meaning they’d be much safer than existing suits.
In a chat with Blastr, Newman said the suits' impact could potentially be “revolutionary” for the future of space travel:
“Revolutionary, I have to say, as we’re proposing a revolutionary, radical concept, mechanical counter-pressure. I think this was a genius idea, just before it’s time in the '70s. My team has been able to prove the technical feasibility and the BioSuit offers significantly more mobility and significant mass reductions compared to traditional gas-pressurized spacesuits.”
The concepts behind the BioSuit aren’t new, but the technology and know-how to actually make it work are. Much of Newman’s research was based on previous pitches by folks such as Paul Webb in 1970 and even the 1882 textbook Lehrbuch der systematischen und topographischen Anatomie, which helped her formulate the suit’s rib placement. So it’s taken a few decades (and centuries), but the science has finally caught up with the fiction.
Despite the fact that the design looks like it was pulled straight out of a big-budget sci-fi blockbuster, Newman says the aesthetics are actually dictated by the mechanics of the ribbed design (with some input from the designers, of course, to tie it all together). She told Blastr:
“The elegant mathematics are the basis for the ‘spiderman-looking’ structure of the BioSuit, that’s where the engineering and technology come in. In addition, I collaborate with Gui Trotti of Trotti and Associates, Inc. (Cambridge) and Lino Dainese of Dainese (Italy), and when you team up with world-class designers, I think the results and aesthetics speak volumes.”
Though a lot of the science is in place for the BioSuit, it still has quite a bit of real-world testing left before it can actually become the official uniform for NASA (or whatever third-party spacefarers step into the void). But considering we’re still a decade or two away from mounting a journey to Mars anyway, Newman should have more than enough time left to polish the design.