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One Small Step for Woman

Space ladies have had a bad rap recently (yes, I?? looking at you, Lisa Nowak), but this space lady is looking to change the conversation. Dava Newman is professor of aeronautics and engineering systems at MIT, and she?? pictured here modeling her latest project (??atest?as in ‘worked on for the past seven years’): a space suit that might allow genuine mobility in zero or limited gravity. According to Newman, current space suit designs weigh in at about 300 pounds, with up to 80% of the astronaut’s energy going into simply bending the darned thing. Newman’s proposal, the BioSuit, applies theories of “mechanical counter-pressure”, and essentially seems to turn astronauts into high tech Egyptian mummies, wrapping them in tight layers of spandex and nylon material to protect their bodies from the vacuum of space.

The suit may have been seven years in the making, but it's not ready for action yet. I must admit that I'm not entirely au fait with the requirements of either space clothing or travel, but MIT sources tell me that the suit needs to deliver close to one-third of the pressure exerted by Earth's atmosphere, or about 30 kPa (kilopascals). Then they tell me that the current prototype consistently exerts about 20 KPa. Even if you're as bad at maths as I am this seems like a bit of a problem: those are surely just the details you want to be absolutely sure are nailed down before you pop to Mars for tea. But it's all by the by anyway -- Newman estimates she's got another ten years to go before the suit will be ready. So really this is just a picture of a lady in a space outfit sitting on a Henry Moore sculpture in Cambridge, Mass. (courtesy Donna Coveney).

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