MarsSkin Analogue Space Suits: Expedition One and the Future

J Waldie1; D Wisely2; D Ischia3; M Smith4; S Jordan; K Plachta; A Solignac

 

1. Department of Aerospace Engineering, RMIT University, Victoria, Australia; 2. Current Consulting, Melbourne, Australia;3. Boeing Australia, Fishermans Bend, Victoria, Australia; 4. MYOB, Victoria, Australia

 

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Abstract: To explore the surface of Mars by foot, astronauts will have to wear space suits significantly more advanced than todayís gas-pressurised suits.This is primarily due to the weight, bulk, rigidity, durability and oxygen leakage of the current suits.A possible solution to the shortcomings of gas-pressurisation is mechanical counterpressure (MCP), a methodology which uses form-fitting elastics - not a gas - to pressurise the wearer.The MarsSkin project aims to design, produce and test analogue MCP space suits that will behave in a similar fashion to the real suits which may one day be worn on Mars.

 

MarsSkin 1 was unveiled at the Australian Mars Exploration Conference in 2002, and was essentially a visual mock up.The Expedition One mission to the Mars Desert Research Station (MDRS) in Utah, USA of February/March 2003 was the first practical deployment, and four MarsSkin 2 suits were used.MarsSkin 2 improved on version 1 in having a one-piece outer layer, a prescribed inner simulation MCP layer, and a more practical and useable helmet and backpack system.†† MarsSkin 2 also incorporated the laptop-based datalogger system of the Mars Society of US/Canada into the backpack.Expedition One would allow the suit to be closely studied in a simulation environment, but would also permit a comparison to be made with the existing MDRS gas-pressurised simulation suits.

 

Overall, the MarsSkin 2 suits were found to be less bulky, more practical (with better gloves and pockets) and offered a huge improvement in visibility to the MDRS suits.This allowed astronauts to walk, climb and ride more effectively (and safely) than the MDRS suits, and therefore provided a more efficient suit for scouting and sampling. †† However, the smaller datalogger backpacks were deemed too small to be realistic, while the weight of both MarsSkin and MDRS backpacks were too light a burden.The MarsSkin helmets did not incorporate a realistic neck structure, and the lack of a ventilation system was also noted.These aspects form the basis to improve the MarsSkin suits to version 3 and deployment to Mars-Oz.


The main advantage of MCP technology is flexibility, and this is particularly crucial and advantageous for the gloves.MarsSkin 2 utilised two different forms of gloves (wetsuit and inner/outer layer system), and real MCP gloves and the MDRS gloves were also present.A detailed study was therefore performed to measure the performance of these gloves to attempt to quantify the loss in hand performance to the naked hand.  Simple repeatable tasks in biology, engineering, typing and geology were performed with familiarisation.The MDRS gloves were found to be about 2.7 times slower than the naked hand (average for all tests), while the actual MCP gloves were about 1.6 times slower.  Of the two MarsSkin gloves, the liner/outer combination was found to be the better mimic at about 1.5 times slower than the naked hand.  Of the four tests, the geology test of picking up and bagging rock samples was impacted the most by glove type, while the biology test of scooping soil into a beaker was found to offer the least variation.

PROFILE: James Waldie was a Research Scholar at the University of California San Diegoís Physiology Laboratory and is currently finishing his Phd in Aerospace Engineering at RMIT University. He is involved in a NASA/Honeywell project to develop experimental space suits made of elastics and to study any physiological effects they caused. Such elastic experimental suits could be lighter, safer and more flexible than current gas-pressurised suits, which make them ideally suited for use on Mars. He was also looking at how to make elastic intre-vehicular spacesuits more comfortable in space, both to function as a launch and re-entry suit, but also as a countermeasure to long duration physical deconditioning. James is also project manager for Mars Society Australiaís MarsSkin Project.