Amy Ross, Space Suit Engineer at NASA, captivated the audience at Struktur Design Conference 2017. Ross leads the Advanced Pressure Garment Technology team at NASA’s Johnson Space Center. With 25 years of experience at NASA, Ross shared an engaging history of space suit design.
Space suit design process begins by asking 2 questions…“where are you going” and “what are you going to do?” In response to these questions, there is an array of options available during the ideation phase, however, to guarantee survival a suit must:
- Be a vacuum.
- Protect an individual from radiation, micrometeoroids, and extreme temperatures.
- Perform simple tasks within planetary microgravity.
When Ross says extreme temperatures, she really means extreme! Within every 45 minute period, an individual is exposed to temperatures ranging from -150 degrees fahrenheit (facing away from the sun) up to 250 degrees fahrenheit (facing the sun). In it’s simplest form, a spacesuit is a life support system. Ross provided a quick physical science lesson. The pressure in space is much lower than on Earth’s surface and there is a direct correlation between boiling point and atmospheric pressure. Therefore, with its balloon like structure, space suits provide a stable pressure environment for astronauts.
The suit uses a multi-layer insulation system, creating necessary gaps between the materials. This limits most transfer of heat through conduction – ultimately keeping outside temperatures from reaching the astronaut. Under the actual suit, Ross explained how astronauts wear a Liquid Cooling and Ventilation Garment (LCVG). This garment utilizes over 300 feet of tubing in order to remove moisture and transfer heat away from the body through conduction. Shared here is a photo of the LCVG.
In 2015, Nasa celebrated 50 years of spacewalking and EVA or Extravehicular Activity. Nasa’s next generation of suit technology continues to improve our ability for deep space exploration. Ross and her team are “incorporating advancements such as regenerable carbon dioxide removal systems. Also, mobility and fit of a pressurized suit are extremely important in keeping astronauts productive, so NASA is focusing on space suit designs to help crews work more efficiently and safely during spacewalks.” (NASA.gpv) One of the newest suits is the Z-2, “designed for maximum astronaut productivity on a planetary surface – exploring, collecting samples, and maneuvering in and out of habitats and rovers.” (NASA.gpv) Ross discussed how the suit is designed with advanced composites in order for the suit to be not only lightweight but also extremely durable. She went on to discuss the adjustments made concerning the critical need for an astronaut’s mobility. Nasa incorporated angled shoulder bearings as well as patterned wrist joints and bearings.
It was a fascinating presentation that left us all captivated about the rigors of design requirements in space! For more information, visit https://www.nasa.gov/suitup