Living in Space
The ‘Living in Space’ exhibit at Techtextil in Frankfurt offered many innovative ideas for our future life in space. The ‘Design in Orbit’ display showcased new concepts from an international group of designers. Their ideas were imaginative, exploring how textiles may help realize future space travel – from nutrition, to clothing, and mobility. Attendees saw “examples of textile materials and processing technologies in an application-oriented setting” (Michael Jänecke).
The ‘Design in Orbit’ exhibit displayed what our future may require for life in space. The apparel designs was a creative display of apparel solutions. One design, the ‘SkinSuit’ was a solution developed by the European Space Agency’s (ESA) to counteract the effect of weightlessness during astronaut space missions. In order to prevent muscle loss, the suit simulates the pull of gravity, hence, it’s full named – the Gravity Loading Countermeasure Skin Suit. The Skin Suit on display had been worn by ESA astronaut Andreas Mogensen on mission to the International Space Station.
The SkinSuit, made of bidirectional elastomer (95% Polyamide, 5% Elastane), contains electrodes that are used to stimulate important muscle groups. This is important because weightlessness can have short and long term effects on an astronaut’s body.
Without getting too technical, there is a loading and unloading of our spine throughout the day. When we are asleep, the body is able to unload, allowing fluid to travel into the spine’s disks. But during the day, the spine experiences mechanical loading, becoming more curved. Our bodies are designed to handle this daily unloading and reloading; but in space, the story changes!
Due to the weightless environment in space, astronauts constantly experience spinal unloading. The ESA has reported the following effects by astronauts from a 6 month mission:
- 50% of astronauts report back pain early in missions
- Their spines are less curved and stiffer after missions
- They are at increased risk of experiencing a back injury (a herniated or ‘slipped’ disk) in the first year after their mission
The SkinSuit was designed for the astronauts to be worn during their daily work. According to Johnathan Scott, PhD at the European Astronaut Centre, “ground based research of spinal unloading has shown that a Skin Suit with loading equivalent to ~20% of body weight (on Earth) can reduce spinal elongation and can be worn comfortably for an extended period of time.” Each suit is custom tailored to an astronaut’s unique specifications. It includes stirrups with personalized insoles, as well as a bidirectional weave “squeezing the body from the shoulders to the feet with a similar force to that felt on Earth” (www.esa.int). More research is being conducted around the cardiovascular and muscular effects of the SkinSuit while at rest, as well as during exercise.
Check here to learn more about the work being done on the Skinsuit!