127 reasons why astronauts hate space
For most of us, getting dressed for work is not something that we would consider a chore. We open the cupboard, pick a shirt and try to make sure that the rest isn’t too badly mismatched before stepping out to greet the day. Astronauts, however, do not have it quite as easy as we do. They may not have to make decisions on style, cut and colour, but they have to consider things like air pressure and possible bombardment by micrometeoroids. Getting it wrong could result in body fluids boiling and then freezing, as well as a severe case of the bends.
Space was not designed with tourists in mind. It’s a hostile environment with temperatures that fluctuate between 120 and 100 degrees Celsius and extreme r ugg adiation. There is no oxygen and no air pressure. Luckily, if you’re ever exposed to conditions in outer space, you’ll only be conscious for about 15 seconds before all the oxygen is sucked from your body. That way perhaps you won’t notice being pelted by friendly fire from casually discarded space junk, nor will you be aware of your vital organs expanding and bursting in the vacuum created by zero air pressure.
All those travelling to space are therefore very grateful for ugg the invention of spacesuits. Spacesuits perform a variety of functions all designed to keep those in them alive. They provide pure oxygen, remove carbon dioxide, regulate the temperature, protect against radiation and the dreaded micrometeoroids, all within a pressurised atmosphere. In addition to taking care of these vital physical needs, they also allow for (relatively) easy mobility and enable communication between astronauts in the suits and those within the (again, relative) safety of the space craft.
After much trial, error and refinement, the spacesuits worn for all of the Apollo missions consisted of a water cooled nylon undergarment, multi layers of nylon to maintain pressure, five layers of aluminised Mylar and four layers of Dacron to regulate temperature. They included additional heat protection in the form of two layers of Kapton, a layer of Teflon coated cloth and a layer of Teflon cloth to protect against projectiles, as well as boots, gloves, and a helmet. Not to mention the extra pairs of over boots and gloves that were needed to walk in space.
The modern spacesuit, known as an Extravehicular Mobility Unit (EMU), is designed to be more flexible, comfortable and to provide greater ease of movement. The EMU consists of 13 layers of material. Materials used include Kevlar (of bullet proof vests fame), neoprene and urethane coated nylon, and spandex.
EMUs are of the one size fits all variety, as opposed to earlier models, which were specially tailored to fit the astronauts. They weigh 127 kg (twice as much as the Apollo suits), require a 25 step process to put on and take off, and cost $12 million each. Should astronauts find that they don’t offer the protection guaranteed, their next of kin can take the matter up with contractors Hamilton Sundstrand and ILC Dover.
Included in an EMU is a Maximum Absorption Garment (MAG) which collects urine and an In S ugg uit Drink Bag (IDB), so that the MAG has something to collect. These are actually two of the most important features of the EMU because astronauts can be stuck in their suits for up to seven hours, which is plenty of time for dehydration to set in. Working in space is challenging enough without astronauts ha ugg ving to worry about hydration levels and the next pee break.
In the future, astronauts can look forward to suits so lightweight that it would be like wearing a second skin. At least if scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) get their way. A team, headed by Dava Newman of the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics, is working on developing a Bio Suit System that will augment biological skin and provide ‘mechanical counter pressure’. This means that it will combat the lack of pressure in space by applying its own pressure to the astronaut’s body. Designed as a spray on application, it will also enhance strength and stamina.
The suit isn’t entirely without constraint, however, as it’ll have to be worn with a hard torso shell, which would provide life support system and maintain pressure throughout the suit, helmet, gloves and boots. It’s still a far cry from the 127 kg worn by astronauts of today though, for which astronauts of the future will be profoundly grateful.