The Super-Tight Spacesuits That Could Protect Astronauts' Bones

By Andrew Moseman | November 4, 2010 11:42 am

SupertightSpacesuitMIT may have found the answer to astronauts’ bone loss in space: really, really tight suits.

The new suit — the Gravity Loading Countermeasure Skinsuit — aims to mimic the effect of gravity on the body. The tight catsuit wouldn’t look out of place in a superhero comic. It features stirrups that hook over the feet and it is purposefully cut too short so that it stretches over the body when worn, pulling the wearer’s shoulders down. The aim is to make sure the legs experience greater force than the torso, just as they do on Earth. [Wired UK]

The Man Vehicle Lab at MIT developed the skin-tight apparel. The researchers are testing it out aboard parabolic flights—those airplane rides that simulate weightlessness—to see if it succeeds in mitigating the harmful health effects of life in zero-G.

Results showed that the suit successfully imitated the pull of gravity on the torso and thighs, but it did not exert enough force on the lower legs. Researchers are now refining the suit’s design to address this; they also plan to test the suit to see how it performs when worn overnight. Volunteers who wore the suit on the test flights reported that the suit was comfortable and did not significantly restrict movement, which means crewmembers can work and exercise while wearing the suit. [Popular Science]

Hopefully the researchers can make those adjustments (and develop versions of the suit that are a little less revealing). If humans go beyond the International Space Station or the moon, we’ll need it.

Astronauts lose one to two percent of their bone density for every month they spend in space, and even with conditioning regimens, crew members aboard the International Space Station have experienced significant bone loss. To keep humans healthy on a mission to Mars, we will need to protect their bones. [io9]

The full report on the suits is in the journal Acta Astronautica.

Related Content:
DISCOVER: Works in Progress—the heavy toll spaceflight takes on astronauts
DISCOVER: Can We Survive on the Moon?
80beats: The Robotic Right Stuff: What It Takes to Become the First Robot Astronaut
80beats: Despite Exercise, Zero-G Makes Astronauts as Wimpy as 80-Year-Olds

Image: MIT/James Waldie

  • nick

    And now we know why people in space movies always wear weird jumpsuits instead of jeans.

    Also, does this remind anyone else of the Flab-o-dynamic suit that the Professor made Hermes wear in that limbo-olympics episode of Futurama?

    Also also, would wearing one of these on earth all the time make you super strong, as if you were constantly subjected to 2gs of gravity? I bet athletes would be all over that.

  • amphiox

    And now we know why people in space movies always wear weird jumpsuits instead of jeans.

    Yeah, but in most of those space movies they already have artificial gravity. Could it be a retro fashion from the time before artificial gravity?

  • Jumblepudding

    Look on responses to previous articles on just this problem, you will see that I proposed a similar idea. You owe me money for my idea, NASA.

  • Brian Too

    The ‘Nauts will look like Deiter from Sprockets! You better not have much flab going on.

  • Suit man

    Compression suits will only work at enhancing performance in athletic events. Though it will be a worthy try. The tech to really make it work for something like mars is far beyond our tech level at present. First the suit would have to be worn all day, second the suit would have to have bio tech that feed off our bodies natural bacteria on the surface to keep bodily sores from developing. Third compression helps the muscles and ligaments for short periods of time and long durations within a suit with present tech would still cause all sorts of muscle problems for the wearer. NASA designed the laser swim suit that is much better at compression then the MIT one. Compression won’t save your bones from becoming weak it will only compact the muscle fibers and might prolong the loss of bone density. But then again maybe they just want only a 5% reduction.

    NASA just needs more money to build a really new fast nuclear powered ship that can get us there in about a month instead of that ridiculous chemical rocket nonsense.

    My reply to nick.
    nick Says:
    The human body was not designed to walk around with 2g of weight pressing in on it. Over time joints and bodies would fail. Mother nature designed us perfectly for our environment.

    Trust me if you had ever worn a full body suit for any period of time, you would have realize how painful they are for athletic performance. Takes 30 minutes to put one on for a 1:00 to 3:00 race. afterwords you want to cut it off.

  • ChH

    Or … they could spin the ship / station for easy artificial gravity. What’s so hard about that?

  • Jotaf

    @6: Yeah, what’s so hard about rocket science? D’oh!

    Good news article though :)

  • ChH

    Jotaf, putting things in orbit is really hard.
    Designing those things to be strong enough to hold together when spun (when they already have to contain a pressurized atmosphere) and spinning them once they are in orbit is trivial.

  • Gartensauna

    Wonderful post was very happy reading the really important information for me thanks, I thought the man in the future. I will surely recommend this article with your friends, family and friends. You are really great so allowing good articles.


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