One of the standout talks from the inspiring TED Women on Thursday was from rocket scientist and MIT aeronautics professor Dava Newman. She showed off prototypes of three different space suits that she’d helped designed for future space missions, and particularly for astronauts one day on Mars.
Newman described space suits as “the world’s smallest space craft,” and showed off a video clip of a fumbling astronaut many decades ago on the Moon wearing a bulky traditional space suit. In contrast Newman’s designs are streamlined, body-hugging and provide the astronaut with mobility and flexibility.
The suit pictured above is a prototype of a suit that provides the needed pressurized atmosphere to walk around the Mars environment. Using plastic and elastic material can provide part of the atmosphere, said Newman, but to add the full amount of atmosphere, and also keep the flexibility of the suit, they used something called muscle wires, or active materials, made of nickel titanium. In the picture above Newman is going through the motion of adding the remaining needed atmosphere by dialing valves on the elbows.
The two other suits that Newman showed off aren’t meant to be used outside on Mars in the environment, but inside the space ship. One is an exercise suit that, just by wearing it, works the muscles on the astronauts’ bodies. Astronauts can lose 40 percent of their muscle strength on a many year long mission, so this type of suit could help astronauts maintain their strength. Newman said that this type of exercise suit could also be used for people with muscular disabilities to maintain strength.
The third suit that Newman talked about is meant to be worn inside one of the bigger outside bulky suits. These older suits have caused a lot of problems with astronauts’ shoulders, and have led to surgeries after long missions. The inside suit would provide protection and support to the needed areas that have been vulnerable inside the traditional suit.
Newman said her dream is “to invent the world’s coolest space suits for Mars.” If astronauts do reach the planet, looks like they’ll have some hot new threads to don upon arrival.