You’ll Probably Be Wearing This Skintight NASA Suit Someday

What if you could limit the amount of bone loss in your own lifetime by simply wearing a certain kind of suit? Would you do it?

What if that suit was a next-generation skintight suit designed for NASA astronauts? This new suit may be the wave of the future and it’s being tested out by astronauts right now.

A stretchy suit that mimics the effects of the Earth’s gravity has been developed in the US to spare astronauts the ill effects of long missions of weightlessness. Returning astronauts have lower bone density and muscle mass and can even suffer separation of their vertebrae. The suit is made of a fabric with carefully tailored stretchiness. It creates more of a pull at its wearer’s feet than at the shoulders, replicating gravity’s pull on Earth.

Researchers from MIT’s Man Vehicle Laboratory recently published a paper in the journal Acta Astronautica that details a prototype space suit called the “gravity loading countermeasure skinsuit,” or GLCS for short (not that the acronym really helps).

The suit tries to replicate the force of gravity by squeezing astronauts from the shoulders to the ankles, putting pressure on their skeletons. That’s important because people who spend much time in low-gravity environments experience bone loss. Leg bones, which are most susceptible because they carry so much weight on the Earth, lose about 1 to 2 percent of their mass per month in low-gravity environments, the report says.

“Painful elongation” of astronauts’ spines, by up to 2.75 inches, is also possible in low-gravity environments, the report says.

That’s bad news for astronauts — and for space exploration.

“Bone loss may be the most important limiting factor for long-term space flight, due to the risk of fracture,” the report says.

Cue the skintight, back-saving space suit.

It’s made of elastic and woven in a way that it pulls from the shoulders and armpits. Several bands of the suit are woven into “belts” of sorts, which aim to distribute this pulling force across the body so the suit is more comfortable and so the effect of the gravity suit is more-evenly distributed.

MIT isn’t the first group to think of a gravity-replicating suit. The “Penguin Suit,” made by the Russian space program, is in use at the international space station now, according to the report. That suit uses bungee cords and a leather belt to create tension on a person’s skeleton. The cords connect from the belt to the shoulders and also down to the feet and calves.

It’s an uncomfortable setup because of the tension and because the suits get unbearably hot, says the report, authored by James Waldie from MIT and to be published in an upcoming print edition of the journal.

The new GLCS elastic suit aims to be more wearable.

The elastic wicks moisture away from the skin. “Crew members may be able to exercise, work normally or even sleep while wearing the countermeasure suit, in accordance with a wide variety of wearing protocols,” the report says.

In tests, the GLCS didn’t fare quite that well.

Of the three subjects who tested the prototype in a weightless environment, two said the suit would give them “minor discomfort” if they had to wear it all day, or for 16 hours; and the third said it was “too uncomfortable” to wear for more than four hours.

Reports about the suit online tended to focus on its aesthetics and lack of fashion sense as well as its workability in space.

PopSci, which first reported the story, wrote that the “Spiderman-style suit may not win astronauts a spot in the fashion hall of fame.”

Wired UK called it an “extra-tight catsuit.”

What do you think? Will you be wearing this suit at some point? NASA, always the innovators, apparently has to do something to occupy its time since the shuttle is being retired for a little bit.

Via CNN and BBC News