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Creating Budget Space Suits For the Private Space Industry

samzenpus posted more than 2 years ago | from the who-are-you-wearing? dept.

Space 98

Zothecula writes "Although the SpaceX Dragon spacecraft was unmanned during its recent first flight to the International Space Station, the success of that mission marked a huge step toward future crewed commercial space flights. SpaceX, of course, isn't the only player in this newly-forming industry – companies such as Virgin Galactic, Boeing, and Blue Origin are also hoping to take paying customers on rocket rides. However, while a lot of attention has been paid to the spacecraft themselves, one has to wonder what those private-sector astronauts will be wearing. Expensive NASA space suits, perhaps? Not if Ted Southern and Nikolay Moiseev have anything to say about it."

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GOD HATES FAGS AND FAG ENABLERS (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40392019)

n/t

Re:GOD HATES FAGS AND FAG ENABLERS (-1, Offtopic)

couchslug (175151) | more than 2 years ago | (#40393783)

The Catholic Church is an example otherwise.

Perhaps God just hates loser Anonymous Cowards.

Re:GOD HATES FAGS AND FAG ENABLERS (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40394681)

GOD DOES HATE CATHOLICS. And Methodists. And Presbyterians. And Lutherans. And Episcopalians. And those so-called "Baptists" across town that use a different hymnal.

TL;DR: I'M A BAPTIST YOU INSENSITIVE CLOD!

No designer outfits. (1)

busyqth (2566075) | more than 2 years ago | (#40392031)

I think most astronauts would be ok with a cheap suit made in the maldives or vietnam.
After all, there's no need to waste money on designer outfits when all that's really important is a good vacuum seal and a few life support functions.

Re:No designer outfits. (5, Insightful)

camperdave (969942) | more than 2 years ago | (#40392129)

Actually, a good vacuum seal may not be all that important. Skin cells are tough. A skin-tight fine mesh suit would apparently be good enough. An astronaut could look like a downhill skier or speed skater.

Re:No designer outfits. (5, Informative)

Em Adespoton (792954) | more than 2 years ago | (#40392261)

Yeah; the issue isn't the vacuum; the issue is protection against radiation and orifice protection (mostly eyes, nose and mouth).

Re:No designer outfits. (1)

WorBlux (1751716) | more than 2 years ago | (#40392455)

The suits are designed to be use during takeoff and landing as an emergency backup *within* the spacecraft. Radiation really isn't the main issue there.

Re:No designer outfits. (1)

identity0 (77976) | more than 2 years ago | (#40393119)

Actually, yes you have to protect against vacuum, because it would cause decompression sickness (the bends) and possibly actually boil your blood because of the lowered boiling point of water.

Re:No designer outfits. (2)

catmistake (814204) | more than 2 years ago | (#40393393)

But protecting against 0 atmosphere just isn't that big of a technological problem. As long as they're not using it for spacewalks, it should be able to be made very cheaply. I think a spacesuit for a spaceship's interior would need to be nothing more than a glorified ziplock bag with a way to allow the user to respire without suffocating. If the puzzle was making suit to protect a man at the bottom of the deepest ocean... that is a challenge.

Re:No designer outfits. (2, Insightful)

rubycodez (864176) | more than 2 years ago | (#40394593)

you've watched too many cheesy sci-fi movies. The human body can take 0 mm Hg pressure just fine, you have a thing called "blood pressure" inside you, your blood will not boil. Moreover, you can research yourself what the biggest issue will be, noted scientist's exact words "expect to fart a lot"

Re:No designer outfits. (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40397345)

Sorry, OP is correct. Once you've bought into the architecture of a full pressure spacesuit, which this one is, you need to provide that protection from the vacuous environment. While it's true you can only use mechanical counterpressure (in theory) to protect your body against vacuum, it does nothing for your oxgyen, obviously. An MCP suit, in theory, would need some kind of pressure seal at the neck to provide your face with breathable atmosphere.

Also, while it's true that this suit would be IVA and would not be pressurized in nominal operations, it is primarily there to pressurize in a contingency where you have a breech of the spacecraft due to orbital debris or some malfunction with the life support system. Otherwise, there is really no point in having one and you may as well wear a jump suit or t-shirt and shorts.

Re:No designer outfits. (1)

Immerman (2627577) | more than 2 years ago | (#40402733)

Still, all you really need in an intra-cabin pressure suit is a nominally airtight body-glove with an airtight helmet and constricted joints so that in-suit air pressure doesn't inflate it into a spread eagle balloon and render you immobile. Mechanical counter-pressure does wonders for that, as well as limiting air loss due to suit punctures. In fact the only reasons to make the body suit itself airtight is to limit leakage from the helmet and reduce outgassing from the skin, which might cause problems over the long term, and will certainly contribute to dehydration and probably form ice crystals in the suit material which could lead to real problems.

On the other hand comfort could be a real issue, I don't know that we have the materials yet to make a suit that can apply 1atm (or really 0.5atm or less would be fine) of mechanical compression without rapidly becoming very uncomfortable, even assuming regular full-body waxing. Thermal underwear is bad enough, and I doubt that comes anywhere close to 1atm of pressure. Plus you have the issues of thermal regulation and moisture wicking, which are both greatly simplified by air circulation.

It's also worth noting that these are primarily an emergency backup to be worn during launch and reentry - in which case any decompression would likely be explosive, which puts much higher demands on the suit's integrity.

Oh, and to anyone out there designing a body-glove style pressure suit - be sure to align the material so that the fibers are 45 degrees away from axial alignment (finger-trap style) to maximize flexibility when inflated. Virtually all hydrostatic skeletal systems on earth use this mechanism. The one exception is reproductive organs, which not coincidentally require rigidity: http://www.ted.com/talks/diane_kelly_what_we_didn_t_know_about_penis_anatomy.html [ted.com]

Re:No designer outfits. (1)

rubycodez (864176) | more than 2 years ago | (#40422549)

sorry, NASA says you are full of shit, human body can take hard vacuum for a while.

Re:No designer outfits. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40395053)

Your skin and veins are tough enough to keep blood pressure high and keep your blood from boiling. You wouldn't like it, but IIRC and as much as skin is concerned you won't die either as long as outside pressure drops gradually and not abruptly. Breathing is a totally different problem though.

Re:No designer outfits. (1)

Immerman (2627577) | more than 2 years ago | (#40402833)

Well, it's not quite that rosy a picture either - just the other day I read about a high-altitude test pilot some time ago who lost integrity in one pressure glove. He lost the use of his hand after a few minutes of vacuum exposure, and while it rapidly recovered once he was back in a pressurized atmosphere that's a pretty unacceptable situation if you're trying to repair your space capsule.

Re:No designer outfits. (2)

poly_pusher (1004145) | more than 2 years ago | (#40392441)

The article addresses this. The suit is not intended to be worn outside of the vehicle. It will be worn in case there is a loss of pressure or life support. The vehicle is what will provide the necessary "or best possible" shielding from radiation.

Re:No designer outfits. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40396239)

Seems like it should be made in layers. One company could do the inner microfiber layer with an embedded water jacket to deal with sweat and maintain comfortable body temperature. Another company could do the spandex pressure suit and helmet seal layer. And the outer layer just needs some basic fire protection. Dunno about the inside layer, but Bodyglove and Simpson would seem likely companies with enough experience and knowhow to contract for production the outer layers.

Re:No designer outfits. (1)

ragefan (267937) | more than 2 years ago | (#40398015)

Is there really a need for the suits in the first place? For extra vehicular missions sure, but not all flights would have them and nor would all occupants need them? How many times have there been situations that the suit prevented injury or the lost of life? I don't call myself a Space historian, but from my recollection, having space suit did not help Apollo 1, Challenger or Columbia astronauts escape from their emergencies, nor were the Apollo 13 astronauts saved by theirs. Or is it really there to provide a false sense of security?

Re:No designer outfits. (1)

dryeo (100693) | more than 2 years ago | (#40399095)

One of the Salyut missions had a hatch seal failure on re-entry killing all 3 cosmonauts.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Soyuz_11 [wikipedia.org]

cheap vs reliable (1)

Revek (133289) | more than 2 years ago | (#40392047)

Rarely are the two the same thing.

Re:cheap vs reliable (4, Insightful)

cpu6502 (1960974) | more than 2 years ago | (#40392079)

My PC cost are mere $500 and is still going strong 10 years later. I could have spent twice as much on a non-generic brand, but would not have gotten anymore out of it. (Same principle applies to my 25 year old Dodge versus a Chrysler, or my 15 year old Honda versus an Acura. Spending less doesn't automatically mean less lifespan/reliability.)

Re:cheap vs reliable (0)

Revek (133289) | more than 2 years ago | (#40392089)

When your pc quits you can still breath.

Re:cheap vs reliable (5, Insightful)

cpu6502 (1960974) | more than 2 years ago | (#40392123)

(whoosh). The point I was making with my PC v. Apple and Honda v. Acura and Dodge v. Chrysler comparison was this: A spacesuit can be made for half the cost of a Nasa suit, and yet still be JUST as reliable.

Re:cheap vs reliable (0)

jhoegl (638955) | more than 2 years ago | (#40392163)

Great, when you get done testing out the cheap space suit you can tell us about how much radiation you picked up and then tell us where in China will it be mass produced.

Re:cheap vs reliable (1)

CrimsonAvenger (580665) | more than 2 years ago | (#40392229)

Great, when you get done testing out the cheap space suit you can tell us about how much radiation you picked up

I take it noone explained to you that spacesuits aren't radiation shields?

Re:cheap vs reliable (0)

Em Adespoton (792954) | more than 2 years ago | (#40392289)

I take it noone explained to you that that's their primary purpose? Secondary is a life support system.
Sure, a space suit won't protect against gamma ray bursts, but there are many wavelengths of cosmic radiation that our atmosphere filters out and our skin won't. Current space suits (the kind used in spacewalks) tend to block most of this.

Re:cheap vs reliable (2)

poly_pusher (1004145) | more than 2 years ago | (#40392473)

I take it you didn't read the article? It is Intended to be worn inside the ship in case there is a loss of pressure or life support... The ship provides whatever radiation shielding is possible, which still isn't much.

Re:cheap vs reliable (2)

khallow (566160) | more than 2 years ago | (#40393451)

I take it noone explained to you that that's their primary purpose?

If so, the "explanation" would be seriously wrong. Seriously, don't you realize how dumb that claim is?

Any space suit has to keep you alive in hard vacuum and subject to the many extremes of space that can kill you within seconds or minutes. As a result that's their primary purpose. Only space suits that are worn for long periods of time need protect you from radiation. And you can also bring a radiation shield along, if you don't have a well-shielded suit.

Re:cheap vs reliable (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40394415)

I highly doubt that a spacesuit affords much shielding at all against anything but alpha or beta. I doubt there's much neutron up there (no nearby reactors). Simple clothing handles UV easily. That leaves EM radiation of the gamma and higher energies. I don't think you can make a usable suit with enough lead in it to do any significant shielding. Conversely, I don't think you can shield enough with a thin layer of lead to make it worth the mass and immobility.

Maintaining pressure is the primary purpose of the suit. Lose pressure, get the bends and die. Keeping you warm is next. Lose heat, freeze and die. Keeping you cool is important too although you could plan missions to stay shaded. Maintaining a breathable atmosphere is right up there though you might have a couple minutes stay time if your O2/CO2 system fails.

Do the other posters even know what radiation is?

Re:cheap vs reliable (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40394791)

Do the other posters even know what radiation is?

This is the new /.: News for wannabe nerd poseurs, stuff that gets page hits.

Of course they don't.

Re:cheap vs reliable (1)

Immerman (2627577) | more than 2 years ago | (#40402931)

Don't forget about cosmic rays. Then again current spacecraft shielding ignores them as well - with enough lead you could block them, but the cascade of secondary particles would be far more damaging, and enough lead to block those would mean you never get off the ground.

Re:cheap vs reliable (1)

delt0r (999393) | more than 2 years ago | (#40398631)

Even an inch of lead won't shield you from cosmic radiation, this is lions share on longer missions. UV yes, but then a cotton t shirt does that as well.

Re:cheap vs reliable (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40395395)

Noone has never graced me with his wisdom on space suits.
Maybe you can send him over sometime.

Re:cheap vs reliable (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40400299)

I take it noone explained to you that spacesuits aren't radiation shields?

I take it that no one explained to you that "noone" isn't a word.

Re:cheap vs reliable (1)

Tastecicles (1153671) | more than 2 years ago | (#40392245)

I wouldn't trust a mass produced suit. When a suit isn't made from the getgo to fit the intended wearer like a glove, quality control suffers. Loose stitching, odd frays... the old Nike Creep gets in there, and we have tourists depressurising. Messy.

Re:cheap vs reliable (5, Informative)

ColdWetDog (752185) | more than 2 years ago | (#40392311)

These guys have been building space suits for NASA / ESA / Roscomos for years. It seems like they're taking that knowledge and like just improving things - making them simpler, more standardized. Not Nike level. They will likely still be hand made for some time.

Moiseev has worked as a space suit engineer for over 20 years, developing suits for groups such as NASA, the European Space Agency and the Russian Space Agency. Southern’s background lies in the area of special effects and costumes for theater, movies and television. Together, they designed a glove for use in outer space, which placed second in the 2009 NASA Astronaut Glove Challenge. They went on to work as technical residents at New York’s Eyebeam art and technology center, and were awarded a NASA contract last year, to continue development of their pressurized glove.

Seems like progress as promised...

Re:cheap vs reliable (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40392333)

I know most people are too lazy to rtfa but "Unlike some of NASA’s suits, which are designed with extra-vehicular activities such as space walks in mind, their suit is intended only for Intra Vehicular Activity. This means that it would be worn within the spacecraft during launch and reentry, as a safety backup in case of loss of cabin pressure."

Re:cheap vs reliable (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40392351)

A space suit needs to be reliable, allow some degree of mobility, and protect you from radiation (although the article states that these are intended for use inside of spacecraft, where radiation protection need not be a feature). NASA space suits have a LOT of extra bells and whistles beyond this. Remove what are essentially luxury items or mission specific items, and you'll see the cost come down.

To continue the car analogy, a basic Acura is much more reliable than a high end BMW. Paying more doesn't always get you more reliability.

To address your statement about China... Um... All the lead paint that winds up on the thing should cover the radiation issue... (I'm saying please don't make this thing in China, or it will not be safe, and possibly for unexpected reasons.)

Re:cheap vs reliable (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40393657)

(whoosh). The point I was making with my PC v. Apple and Honda v. Acura and Dodge v. Chrysler comparison was this: A spacesuit can be made for half the cost of a Nasa suit, and yet still be JUST as reliable.

Maybe I miss the point you are making, but...

- Honda is Acura

American Honda Motor Co, Inc. today announced the establishment of a "green dealer" program for its independently-owned Honda and Acura automobile dealers in the United States.

- Dodge is Chrysler

© 2012 Chrysler Group LLC. All Rights Reserved.
Chrysler, Jeep, Dodge, Ram, SRT, Mopar and the Pentastar logo are registered trademarks of Chrysler Group LLC.

- Apple computer is a Personal-Computer (and even more personal as you scale down in size)

By your comparisons you are literally saying that NASA can cut their costs in half by buying the spacesuits from the same people they are currently buying them from. Your argument makes no sense.

Re:cheap vs reliable (1)

Immerman (2627577) | more than 2 years ago | (#40403159)

And they pretty much would be - as others have pointed out these guys have been in the spacesuit manufacturing business for a while - the difference would be these suits are designed to their specs for more mass-production, rather than custom designed to NASA's ultra-deluxe do everything we can think of specs. Very much an entry-level versus luxury model comparison.

What I'd love to see is a modular system with specialized components - high-dexterity skin-tight gloves for fine repairs, an alternate helmet that includes a HUD and chin/tongue toggles for more involved uses, that sort of thing.

Re:cheap vs reliable (1)

Revek (133289) | more than 2 years ago | (#40395277)

Sorry to burst your bubble chuck but apple products aren't just over priced, they are well engineered. So your low rent 500 buck pc was a keeper. So what? I still see plenty of cheap bare bones and name brand computers that give it up after a year or less. So you lucked out with a car. You think that's a model t your driving. Plenty of mistakes were made and corrected to help make your lovely mass produced dodge last so long. As far as I know NASA has never lost someone through a malfunction of the suits they deployed. I'm sure you can name your dodge make and model and easily find someone who thinks its the biggest deathtrap since the pinto. There are limits and problems with cheaper. Can they afford to make it cheaper until it becomes as reliable? Not with our sue first society.

Re:cheap vs reliable (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40392105)

And I can produce a litany of people who bemoan their cheap PCs, crappy budget cars and match you anecdote for anecdote.

There's value for your dollar, and just being cheap. Sometimes that bites you.

Re:cheap vs reliable (3, Funny)

camperdave (969942) | more than 2 years ago | (#40392149)

My PC cost are mere $500 and is still going strong 10 years later.

For a second there, I thought this was another MyCleanPC post.

Re:cheap vs reliable (1)

mosb1000 (710161) | more than 2 years ago | (#40392257)

Then there's the refurbished monitor I just received that started smoking and burnt itself out as soon as I plugged it in. If I'd spent 50% more and bought it from BestBuy, I wouldn't have to go through the online return process, I could just bring it straight back to them. And I think there's a possibility a new monitor is more likely to work as well. You can't always get away with pinching pennies.

Re:cheap vs reliable (1)

halltk1983 (855209) | more than 2 years ago | (#40393191)

Refurbished means it already broke once. I wouldn't want a refurbished space suit, either. "Most of my items have almost no blood left on them."

Re:cheap vs reliable (2)

Smallpond (221300) | more than 2 years ago | (#40393669)

Refurbished means that it was returned but passed the tests. Manufacturers don't fix anything broken anymore.

Re:cheap vs reliable (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40394285)

stop calling me to ask if i can "speed up" your fsking 10 year old computer.

and since you mentioned, it will you PLEASE get that heap you call a car off your lawn and hide it in your garage?

signed:
your neighbor.

Re:cheap vs reliable (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40395239)

You have a point, but your examples seem nuts

Re:cheap vs reliable (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40392083)

Agreed.
On the other hand there is little correlation between expensive and reliable either...

Re:cheap vs reliable (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40392121)

Yeah but Elon Musk says the Dragon is even cheaper than the Chinese.
So you're saying the Dragon is probably unreliable?

Better! Faster! Cheaper! (1)

Overzeetop (214511) | more than 2 years ago | (#40392187)

Choose two.

More importantly, they have to determine how valuable the payload is. At NASA the value approaches infinte, as opposed to say, coal miners or automobile passengers, where the value is somewhere in the 6 to 7 figure range. A great suit adds one more tolerance to the fault chain. Otherwise, you're just looking at a g-suit to make it through launch - source it from military contractors without the red tape for a grand or two. TFA, otoh, looks to be talking about actual EVA-capable suits.

Why would they wear space suits? (2)

amorsen (7485) | more than 2 years ago | (#40392139)

Space suits are bulky and annoying. All they protect you against is loss of pressure; they can't provide any protection worth mentioning against impact or fire. So what exactly is the point?

Re:Why would they wear space suits? (4, Informative)

Brett Buck (811747) | more than 2 years ago | (#40392209)

Ask the crew of Soyuz 11 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Soyuz_11 [wikipedia.org] . Oops, scratch that!

Re:Why would they wear space suits? (1)

mug funky (910186) | more than 2 years ago | (#40392843)

or Apollo 1... but they weren't in space yet.

Re:Why would they wear space suits? (1)

wisnoskij (1206448) | more than 2 years ago | (#40392347)

The point is that in space you do not really have to worry about impacts or fire, while loss of pressure is a ever present danger.

Re:Why would they wear space suits? (2)

amorsen (7485) | more than 2 years ago | (#40395319)

Hardly anyone dies once they are in space. The only example is Soyuz 11, where a valve opened at the wrong time and got stuck. So build in some redundancy when you make valves.

Re:Why would they wear space suits? (1)

FunkDup (995643) | more than 2 years ago | (#40463871)

So build in some redundancy when you make valves.

LOL...another valve in a spacecraft is really going to help when one is stuck open!

Re:Why would they wear space suits? (1)

amorsen (7485) | more than 2 years ago | (#40466183)

Yes, it is. Put them in series.

Re:Why would they wear space suits? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40397473)

Spacesuits most definitely protect you against fire, especially this kind of spacesuit (a Launch/Entry suit as opposed to an EVA suit). The concern isn't as much in space, but on landing or before launch if you have a fire of some kind. NASA has requirements for these kind of suits that speak to fire protection - and in fact it is a MAJOR driver for the materials chosen on the outer layers. The outer layer essentially meets requirements commensurate with a lot of firefighter clothing.

Re:Why would they wear space suits? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40394341)

ummm....
they protect you against is loss of pressure?

educate yourself (1)

rubycodez (864176) | more than 2 years ago | (#40394607)

spacesuits also protect against radiation, extreme termperature, and small micrometeorioids.

Re:educate yourself (1)

amorsen (7485) | more than 2 years ago | (#40395289)

spacesuits also protect against radiation, extreme termperature, and small micrometeorioids.

Great. If you have radiation or temperature problems in your spaceship, you're doing it wrong. Shielding for micrometeoroids is also best added to the spaceship, rather than to something the astronauts have to wear.

Re:educate yourself (1)

delt0r (999393) | more than 2 years ago | (#40398691)

They offer practically zero protection against radiation. Cosmic background radiation is very difficult to shield against. Earth manages with 10 metric tons per square meter of atmosphere that is also a few km thick and we still get plenty of the secondary particles even at sea level.

Re:educate yourself (1)

rubycodez (864176) | more than 2 years ago | (#40407267)

silly to make a general statement about the many kinds of radiation that form "cosmic rays". UV - the visor of the suit is coated to block this, and the rest of the suit blocks it. X-Rays and Gamma rays, not enough to be a problem. Alpha - suit blocks them. Other charged particles, the earth's magnetic field protects agains them below the van allen belts. Other high energy particles do penetrate, but not so frequently to cause a problem.

I heard a similar comment about the STS... (1)

Tastecicles (1153671) | more than 2 years ago | (#40392203)

..."A billion Dollars worth of hardware, held aloft by a five Dollar breaker switch."

I don't remember where I heard/read it, but it made me laugh.

But seriously, are you going to go with the lowest bidder? I would want the job doing by someone who knows what they're doing, not by someone who's desperate to close a contract. NASA have, demonstrably, several decades of experience in manned spaceflight, and of the equipment and systems used, and the companies to go to to fulfill their requirements. I'd rather go to Thiokol for rockets than Estes. FFD can keep their cabin suits - which are not designed for hard vacuum - and I'll stick with an Orlan MK or an EMU.

Re:I heard a similar comment about the STS... (1)

Shompol (1690084) | more than 2 years ago | (#40392425)

NASA track record is not exactly stellar. 18 fatalities (5%?) [wikipedia.org] -- if a commercial enterprise work like this they will go bust pretty quickly. I will take the lowest bidder, thank you.

Re:I heard a similar comment about the STS... (1)

Tastecicles (1153671) | more than 2 years ago | (#40392617)

...and not a single one attributable to equipment failure due to poor design or normal fatigue. Challenger was the result of poor management*. Columbia was the result of failure to inspect launch damage that was *known about* **. Apollo 1 was the result of a decision to use pure oxygen instead of N-O mix in 79/21 ratio such as we have here on Earth (which was rectified after the pad fire).

*Thiokol said "do not launch, we cannot vouch for the performance of seals at subzero temperatures", but NASA management ordered the launch anyway.
**A suitcase-sized piece of foam broke off the ET soon after liftoff. The cause of the breakoff was attributed to freezing; such event was seen as unavoidable, but in my mind the least that could have happened was the order given to perform a visual inspection via EVA or using the RMA camera, which would have been able to angle to the damaged section, all while the shuttle was still docked to the ISS. I said on the day of the launch that Columbia wasn't landing in one piece. At least if the crew had stayed on the ISS (however uncomfortable that may have been for a few days/weeks) and jettisoned the demonstrably useless and hazardous shuttle to burn up on its own (it has a remote control so it would have been no problem to bring it in for a burn/splashdown in the middle of the Pacific), then a rescue/recovery mission for the crew would have just been a matter of warming up the VAB and strapping one of the other orbiters to an ET...

Re:I heard a similar comment about the STS... (2)

tsotha (720379) | more than 2 years ago | (#40393139)

At least if the crew had stayed on the ISS (however uncomfortable that may have been for a few days/weeks) and jettisoned the demonstrably useless and hazardous shuttle to burn up on its own (it has a remote control so it would have been no problem to bring it in for a burn/splashdown in the middle of the Pacific), then a rescue/recovery mission for the crew would have just been a matter of warming up the VAB and strapping one of the other orbiters to an ET...

I'm not sure how the crew would have "stayed" at the ISS given they were never there in the first place and had no way to get there. Once that piece of foam hit the wing the crew was doomed. They may have been able to discover they were doomed if the Air Force had come through on imaging that was requested, but the scenarios under which the damage is repaired or the crew survives in orbit until rescue are fanciful.

Re:I heard a similar comment about the STS... (1)

tchuladdiass (174342) | more than 2 years ago | (#40394439)

This is one of the things that a lot of people have a hard time understanding about space travel / orbital mechanics. The analogy I use, is let's say you throw a baseball on the interstate, intending it to land in the bed of a specific pickup truck. Now half way through the ball's flight, you find out that it needs to go into another truck traveling in the opposite direction, and the only thing the ball can do is eject pieces of itself in order to change it's direction / velocity. Well, it ain't going to make it. So that is why the Columbia shuttle couldn't dock with the ISS, even if the damage was known about.

However, one thing it could have done is fly in using a trajectory which put more stress on the good wing, until the vehicle reached an altitude in which the occupants could safely eject. But that was only speculation on NASA's part, no guarantee that it would have worked. But an inspection would have at least left it as an option.

Re:I heard a similar comment about the STS... (1)

Lurker2288 (995635) | more than 2 years ago | (#40397727)

According to 'Comm Check', the Columbia Accident Investigation Board considered alternative reentry options which would have minimized strain on the left wing, but they concluded that anything they could have done might have slowed down the rate of failure due to heating, but would not have prevented it. You'd have ended up with a shuttle breaking up 40 miles closer to Kennedy, but the shuttle would still have burned up. I don't think the difference would have made bail out a possibility.

Re:I heard a similar comment about the STS... (1)

Lurker2288 (995635) | more than 2 years ago | (#40397705)

I'm just finishing up 'Comm Check' right now, and the authors essentially agree with you. The best chance for a rescue in orbit would have involved the astronauts on the Columbia severely cutting activity in order to minimize oxygen consumption--that would buy them a week or so. Meanwhile, on the ground, prep work on Atlantis goes into overdrive so that they can launch as soon as a launch window opens. This assumes NASA is willing to launch Atlantis without knowing exactly what caused the foam shedding (which occurred on both Columbia and on the previous flight of discovery), which they might not have done. The astronauts would then have to spacewalk transfer from Columbia to Atlantis (risky, but reasonable) and then fly home with four astronauts sitting on the floor of the crew module with no restraints for return to earth. So, possible, but just barely.

Re:I heard a similar comment about the STS... (1)

YrWrstNtmr (564987) | more than 2 years ago | (#40394163)

NASA track record is not exactly stellar.

Bull. You can't just take NASA's accident (or fatality) record, you have to lump in the Russians, Chinese, ESA, and anyone else that has lofted a craft into semi-orbit. Because we've all learned from each other, as humans.
And obviously, we have no other space faring species at the very beginning of their quest to compare to. Is the number of people that have been killed good or bad? No clue.

And, according to your wiki link, Soyuz and the Shuttle fared about the same in launch/reentry losses, at 2%.

Re:I heard a similar comment about the STS... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40393115)

But seriously, are you going to go with the lowest bidder? I would want the job doing by someone who knows what they're doing, not by someone who's desperate to close a contract.

The point is that, for example, SpaceX is capitalising on 50+ years of space science to lower the cost of getting to space. By building cheaper, but more reliable and reusable boosters and capsules.

Bigelow Aerospace [bigelowaerospace.com] is using discarded NASA technology to innovate cheaper but equally reliable inflatable space habitats.

NASA has been using basically the same space suit design for the last 50 years. Maybe Final Frontier Design can give the same kind of fresh outlook that SpaceX gave to booster and capsule design and Bigelow Aerospace is giving to space habitat design.

I can't say whether Final Frontier Design will succeed, but a new design is needed. NASA space suits are very expensive, custom fitted for each user. Surely there must be some equally reliable, but cost saving design improvements.

Space Suit Warehouse (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40392223)

You're gonna look good when you die of asphyxiation. I promise.

I predict: (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40392269)

They'll be double-breasted, with brass buttons, and mostly be maroon, with lapels done in silver or gold, or iridescent white. The pants will end up being bell-bottomed, with patent leather boots. The colors may vary, but it'll end up being shaped vaguely like modern single or double-breasted suits, with contrasting colors for things like collars, lapels, and flashing down the pant legs.

We're going to be meeting aliens eventually, and we need to present a slick, yet uniform and professional united and unified-looking front, the best way to do that is if we're all wearing variations on the same theme.

I don't think they'll abandon the notion of sport coats and jackets, since if we were going to dispose of nonsensical clothing items like things with lapels and collars and neck-ties or bow-ties, we'd have done it by now.

How many gigawatts are wasted each year keeping businesses and offices cooler because people are convinced they need to wear 8 to 12 layers of cloth in places, instead of simply wearing shirts and pants, or shorts?

Oh... did you mean PROTECTIVE space suits? Yeah, they'll be made in China, initially, then Vietnam and Lesotho as it becomes economically infeasible to manufacture in China due to rising costs as their nation becomes increasingly prosperous and spoiled.

50 years from now, if the pattern holds, you'll see things tagged "Made in Somalia".

Re:I predict: (1)

mug funky (910186) | more than 2 years ago | (#40392909)

that's already happening.

but the stuff that comes out of places like Somalia is tagged "made in China"...

space suits, or how i learned to love mass mfg. (1)

wierd_w (1375923) | more than 2 years ago | (#40392327)

Space suits are a textile product, the same as a bullet proof vest, or a tommy hillfiger T-shirt.

Currently, they are expensive and rightfully so:

The number of paying customers is small.
The number of units sold is small.
The batch sizes for materials are small.
The number of places that make them is small.
The number of people that design and build/test them is small.

However, space suits, like any other commodity that could theoretically benefit from mass manufacture, stand to benefit greatly from the network effects of said mass manufacture.

Should commercial spaceflight take off as a new billion dollar industry, the situation with space suits changes.

The number of paying customers increases. May eventually become large.
The number of units sold increases, and may become large.
To meet the increased demand, the batch sizes for material grows.
The increased demand, coupled with high initial prices means ripe territory for commercial competitors, which drives the prices down.
The increased number of commercial competitors means an increase in the available choices of offering, which means that the numbers of people designing suits goes up.

Taken together, the price of suits will drop significantly, assuming artificial market pressures, like protectionism, market collusion, or innecessary (for the function of the product) regulations are not enacted.

From the perspective of somebody that might want to be a space colonist some day, the prospect of multiple sellers competing for my purchase dollar with quality offerings is very attractive, not the least of which being the lower personal cost of purchase; it also means a lower ticket price, since costs of operating the space transport are reduced, and increased options for specific types of suit fr specific tasks. If I am going to take a job building a commercial spce station doing evas bucking rivets, I want a durable, work-friendly suit. Not a fragile emergency support suit. Multiple suppliers with multiple products means I can find a better offering for my personal needs.

As such, I strongly desire a market flooded with specialty, commercially made suits.

Re:space suits, or how i learned to love mass mfg. (1)

slew (2918) | more than 2 years ago | (#40393195)

In a gold rush, it's often better to be the one selling the shovels instead of the one buying shovels and digging for the gold...

So instead of a market of 100 space suits a year, there's maybe a total market of 5,000 (best case for the forseeable future, at that rate you'd be launching 100 people into space every week). If you expect at least a couple manufacturers competing, that's 2,500. I can tell you that probably doesn't even count as mass manufacturing for something like a space suit...

Compare this to a bullet proof vest. There are about 20,000 law-enforcement agencies in the US. Assuming only 1/10th of them would buy 1 bullet proof vest (a ridiculously small number). If this were the case, who would make a "cheap" bullet proof vest...

Re:space suits, or how i learned to love mass mfg. (1)

tlhIngan (30335) | more than 2 years ago | (#40399021)

So instead of a market of 100 space suits a year, there's maybe a total market of 5,000 (best case for the forseeable future, at that rate you'd be launching 100 people into space every week). If you expect at least a couple manufacturers competing, that's 2,500. I can tell you that probably doesn't even count as mass manufacturing for something like a space suit...

Compare this to a bullet proof vest. There are about 20,000 law-enforcement agencies in the US. Assuming only 1/10th of them would buy 1 bullet proof vest (a ridiculously small number). If this were the case, who would make a "cheap" bullet proof vest...

The problem right NOW is that space suits are actually form-fitted - they're not generic garments you can put on (except maybe in an emergency). Every astronaut has their own that fits them.

I don't know about the Russian suits - they may be made in a more generic fashion and then have laces that fit them to a particular astronaut for that mission and then re-fitted to someone else.

But that's the state of them right now. The reason is simple - they're bulky enough that if something doesn't fit right, it'll be even worse in a vacuum (and possibly dangerous).

For bulletproof vests, the math is a lot different - given they have a max life of around 5 years, they need to be replaced fairly often. And there's a huge worldwide demand (don't forget military!). They're generically made garments with sizing velcro to fit them to the person, so it's easier to stock a range of sizes as if they were normal clothing.

As for why you have a suit - the challenger disaster revealed that the astronauts actually survived the explosions, only to die of hypoxia in the thin air. If you look at shuttle photos before and after, you'll see they used light jumpsuits prior to the disaster, and then wore the orange pressure suits (launch/reentry suits) afterwards.

Wouldn't have helped Columbia (which broke up during reentry when the frictional heating was highest), as they're not made to handle extreme atsmosphere re-entry temperatures - just for cases of decompression.

Re:space suits, or how i learned to love mass mfg. (1)

slew (2918) | more than 2 years ago | (#40405877)

As for why you have a suit - the challenger disaster revealed that the astronauts actually survived the explosions, only to die of hypoxia in the thin air. If you look at shuttle photos before and after, you'll see they used light jumpsuits prior to the disaster, and then wore the orange pressure suits (launch/reentry suits) afterwards.

Okay, so they somehow survive the explosion and are now up 65,000 feet with an orange pressure suit. Is that gonna change anything? There's wasn't survivable "ejection" system on the shuttle (they studied adding one, but concluded there was no feasible way to deploy it).

Wouldn't have helped Columbia (which broke up during reentry when the frictional heating was highest), as they're not made to handle extreme atsmosphere re-entry temperatures - just for cases of decompression.

There was no way that this scheme would have saved any of the Challenger folks either as there was no way for them to get to the hatch and jump out in free fall conditions. The PR solution was to put them in these pressure suits and if in the rare instance there was some small problem (e.g., early main engine cutoff) where the shuttle might be stabilized into a glide pattern after a launch abort, but didn't have enough glide distance to reach an emergency landing site, they could open the hatch and attempt to parachute to the ground rather than do nothing than watch the shuttle crash into the ground. Basically a TSA/govt approach to fixing a problem. Just do something to get the people off your back.

Of course going into space is a dangerous exercise as you are straping yourself to equipment just a hair above the experimental level. Looking good in cheap mass produced designer space suits isn't high on the list of priorities for anyone.

"what those private-sector astronauts... (1)

John Hasler (414242) | more than 2 years ago | (#40393143)

...will be wearing."

Flip-flops, baggy shorts, and t-shirts, init? They are going to be tourists, after all.

my guess is it doesn't matter. (2)

Nyder (754090) | more than 2 years ago | (#40393381)

Lets face it, if the shit hits the fan, you are probably dead, space suit or not.

Re:my guess is it doesn't matter. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40394765)

As a previous poster has pointed out, the crew of Soyuz 11 [wikipedia.org] would have survived their capsule's depressurization if they'd been wearing space suits.

Re:my guess is it doesn't matter. (1)

dontfearthereaper (2657807) | more than 2 years ago | (#40396933)

Agreed.... The reality of the whole thing is unless they plan on having regular schmucks performing spacewalks.... the need for space suits inside the ship is negligible. The jumpsuits they wear now inside the ships are antimicrobial, and provide a minimum level of insulation to keep the astronaut warm. Remember that the astronauts are up for days on end now. They need specialized clothing considering space limitations on the capsules/ISS since they will have to wear the same outfit for a week. For the short hops tourists will be doing, jeans and a nice cotton shirt will suffice just fine. IF the ship/capsule depressurizes, generally speaking, all aboard are completely screwed unless they're wearing the spacewalk suits..... and even then if they aren't relying on the suit's life support system, they'll be screwed anyway. because it will only take a matter of literally a few seconds for the ship to depressurize.

I thank you f0r your time (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40393397)

Dava Newman's Bio-Suit (3, Interesting)

k(wi)r(kipedia) (2648849) | more than 2 years ago | (#40393479)

Cheap as in dirt-cheap isn't the way to go when you have space tourists willing to blow a normal person's annual salary on a joyride. It would be better to design as suit that looks good, while functioning well. I'm think along the lines of Dava Newman's prototype Bio-Suit [mit.edu] , a sleek looking design that doesn't make the presumably fit space traveller looking like the Teletubbies or the Pillsbury Dough boy.

The Bio-Suit is sleek because it is supposed to work on "mechanical counter-pressure" rather than through simple air pressure. That's the theory anyway. Here's hoping she and her team work out the kinks.

Re:Dava Newman's Bio-Suit (1)

khallow (566160) | more than 2 years ago | (#40396987)

And if the presumably-fit space tourist isn't actually fit, a form-fitting suit will look pretty bad.

Why pressurized? (3, Interesting)

jeti (105266) | more than 2 years ago | (#40394583)

Can anybody explain to me why people insist on building pressurized space suits? Working in them seems to be pure pain (say goodbye to your fingernails). Unpressurized suits have successfully been tested as early as 1969 (www.elasticspacesuit.com).

Re:Why pressurized? (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40397435)

Spacesuit engineer here.

Long story short - MCP suits just aren't there yet for a variety or reasons, and there are some of us that aren't sure they ever will be (I think they will, eventually). Namely - applying adequate pressure to all areas of the body, including cavities like the crotch, armpits and crotches of the fingers. Also, making the transition from the MCP part of the suit to the pressurized bubble - you have to have a good, reliable seal against the neck capable of holding 8psi, which is substantial. The time it takes to don and doff the suits are substantial and often require more than one person. Concerns about durability long-term especially in dusty environments. And lastly, the MCP suits you always see do not include a TMG layer (thermal micrometeorite garment) which protects you against temperature, micrometeorites and dust. This layer is by far the most bulky layer of the spacesuit and goes on outside the pressure barrier. If you look at a 1:1 comparison of a full pressure suit without the TMG vs an MCP suit, the difference in bulk is definitely noticeable but not nearly as drastic as first blush, when people think about pictures of the EMU doing an EVA.

Certainly, not to disparage the work that has been done by Paul Webb and Dava Newman and others in this area - I think it's the future...eventually. I just don't think we're quite there from a material or manufacturability standpoint.

Re:Why pressurized? (1)

jeti (105266) | more than 2 years ago | (#40400325)

Thank you for your reply.

I'm aware that unpressurized suits need to be precisely tailored and donning them is not easy. However, I think the same is true for pressurized suits.

And while a full suit assembly would be nearly as bulky as for a pressurized suit, the main problem seems to be that the astronaut has to work against the pressure, which is tiring and makes movement imprecise.

My understanding is that areas where the suit does not fit precisely fill with (lymph?) liquid and swell. Is this a serious problem and how seriously is it compared to problems with pressurized suits, esp problems with the fingernails? Would it solve the problem if one made a suit that is watertight but not airtight and poured in a few cups of water that can fill the areas where the suit does not properly fit?

Re:Why pressurized? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40402401)

Depending on the type of pressurized suits, don/doff is significantly easier, or almost as hard as MCP. For planetary suits, which is what most MCP designs are going for, the difference in don/doff time is significant. When we go back to the Moon or Mars, we will likely be using a suit with a rear-entry hatch that you climb into and close the hatch behind you.

Working against pressure is certainly an issue - I don't deny that at all. Its the main reason that MCP is a possible alternative in the first place and why many in the field find it so attractive. We are always striving to improve mobility, range of motion, joint torque, and tactility - all things that would vastly improve with an MCP suit. It's just that I don't think the materials and manufacturing is there yet for that to happen, and it may be a few decades before it is.

Fingernail delamination is a serious issue as we have seen. But there are ways to mitigate it, and we are always working to improve. Your idea about putting a fluid in the cavities to reduce swelling due to lack of pressure is an interesting one - you would obviously need to baffle it somehow to keep the water in place. Placing a fluid in these areas has been discussed before but not sure where it has gone. I get the impression that those working MCP think they can get the pressure up mechanically without the use of a fluid to help, which would greatly increase complexity and mass, reduce durability, etc.

Like I said, for an EVA application, I think MCP has merit, eventually. It's just not prime time yet and I'm not sure when it will be. For an IVA application like this, there is no need as you are not pressurized except in an emergency, and since MCP has to be custom sized to each person, it's much easier to put them in a sloppy, inexpensive full pressure suit and call it a day. It's basically a "get-me-down" suit, not something that you need to provide great pressurized mobility in. An EVA suit is a completely different application.

Re:Why pressurized? (1)

Immerman (2627577) | more than 2 years ago | (#40403779)

The water-filled regions are an interesting concept, but I imagine it could get quite uncomfortable. Tight clothing chafes badly enough enough when dry, and you'll never convince the water to stay neatly pooled at your groin, it'll get forced into the surrounding suit as you move, which could also be a safety issue assuming an electric heating system, not to me ntion if you were to get stuck upside-down on a planet. Another option might be if the suit is only slightly pressurized - say an airtight "body-glove" suit apply 0.5atm of mechanical pressure while being pressurized to 0.51atm. The 0.01atm wouldn't be enough of a pressure differential to cause mobility problems (20lbs per square foot, versus a paralyzing 1000 for a 0.5atm differential), especially if joints strategically applied a slightly higher mechanical pressure to avoid ballooning, but it would still allow air to flow (slowly) into problem areas like the groin and back of joints.

The groin is still the worst offender in this scenario since you're dealing with a junction of three bodies linked via two independent ball joints, but something like a hard-suit "bikini bottom" might go a long way toward isolating the two joints and simplifying the problem. Heh, those old SF movies may yet prove correct - we'll conquer the galaxy wearing spandex and codpieces.

Disturbing (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40395221)

There are two phrases that should make you feel uneasy about this article:
1) Budget
2) Space Suit

Equinox TV programme (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40396513)

The Equinox TV programme from the late 80s once featured 'solid spacesuits', which were the early designs that NASA (I believe) came up with. These suits were machined out of metal parts which fitted together, and allowed the astronaut to move by air tight rings allowing rotation between each part, the only limitation was that some movements were more complicated than usual, i.e. you couldn't always go straight from point A to B, you had to move in a curve to get there, due to the design of the suit.

Ask Chris Gilman... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40398499)

of Global Effects...

Jumpsuits! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40405551)

Just watch out if they give you a red one.

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