Alumnus Shows Nasa The Future Of Space Suits

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21st October 2009, 05:47pm - Views: 1007

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Alumnus shows NASA the future of space suits

An RMIT University alumnus is working on a range of next-generation spacesuits

for NASA and other space agencies to use on missions to the Moon and Mars.

Dr James Waldie’s gravity-loading skinsuit tackles a significant health problem

faced by astronauts – extreme bone loss – by mimicking the effect of gravity on the

skeletal system.

Dr Waldie, a Postdoctoral Scholar at the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of

Technology (MIT) in Boston, developed the concept for the skinsuit while studying

at RMIT, where he obtained his PhD in 2005.

“On Earth, our bones are strong to support and move our body mass, but in space

astronauts float around without any weight or loading,” he said.

“Their bodies adapt by allowing their bones to weaken at an alarming rate – it’s like

an extreme version of osteoporosis. 

“The gravity-loading skinsuit replicates the normal forces of standing on Earth, so it

makes the body think it needs to be strong even in the weightlessness of space.”

Dr Waldie, whose research is co-sponsored by the European Space Agency,

recently flew on a zero-gravity aircraft to test the comfort, mobility and material

properties of his suit. 

Following the successful tests, five-time shuttle astronaut Jeff Hoffman, who is

currently seconded to MIT from NASA, said the innovative skinsuit “could be a

tremendous breakthrough in solving one of the fundamental problems of long-

duration spaceflight”. 

In research that bridges science fiction with reality, Dr Waldie is also working on

skinsuits for spacewalks on Mars.

He has studied the physiological aspects of the suits in vacuum chambers and

looked at their mobility advantages by conducting simulated spacewalking tasks in

the Australian outback with the Mars Society of Australia.

“The current spacesuits are big body-shaped balloons – they let you take a bit of

the atmosphere around with you when you go for a spacewalk,” Dr Waldie said. 

“They are a marvel of engineering but because they’re an inflatable they become

bulky and rigid in space. Future explorers of Mars will require safe, light and

flexible suits for years of use, which are a significant improvement over the bulky

Apollo suits. Skinsuits may be able to offer that technological leap.”

Dr Waldie is in Australia for a limited time and is available for interview.

For media enquiries: RMIT University Communications, Gosia Kaszubska,

(03) 9925 3176 or 0417 510 735.

21 October, 2009

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