MIT 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.
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Image: MIT/James Waldie