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        Branch Pages & Contacts - Vic - NSW - Qld - SA - NT - WA - ACT - Tas - NZ                        Updated: 30 January, 2017.

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Mona Lisa & Leonardo Expeditions

Comparing Gas Suits & Elastic Suits at Mars Desert Research Desert Station

by James Waldie and Natalie Cutler

The purpose of the most recent MarsSkin study was to conduct a comparison between the spacesuits at the Mars Desert Research Station (MDRS) in Utah and the MarsSkin 3 suits. The US MDRS spacesuits simulate gas-pressurisation (as currently used by astronauts), and the MarsSkins simulate mechanical counter pressure (MCP). MCP suits utilize a form-fitting garment underlay to physically compress the astronaut, rather than pressurize him/her with a gas. This approach is an alternative technology that may help to solve the continuing drawbacks of gas suits, such as rigidity, mass, bulk, oxygen leakage, safety, durability, and expensive maintenance, and is particularly suited for Martian exploration. The MarsSkins were available for use by the Leonardo and Mona Lisa crews at MDRS via crewmembers James Waldie and Natalie Cutler for a total of 4 weeks. For more information and images of the Leonardo and Mona Lisa missions, please see

The MarsSkin suits (see image above right) were setup and deployed after 1 week of baseline testing with the MDRS suits, except for the first 2 days when a Beyond Tomorrow TV crew filmed both types of suits (to be aired June 22). After MarsSkin deployment with the crew, it soon became clear that the ventilation system batteries were performing poorly, despite full recharges. Further, there were compatibility problems with the MarsSkin and MDRS radios, and the VOX operation (required by the helmets) were set off by the ATV engines. It was decided that the best way forward was to use the MDRS backpacks/helmets with the MarsSkin suits, as this solved the ventilation and radio issues but did not significantly impact on the flexibility advantages that MCP garments should confer. All the crewmembers wore both suit types during a variety of EVA tasks (such as the CRV, thermal insulation maintenance, geology sampling, exploration etc), and then filled in a lengthy survey about the attributes of each aspect of the suit design and performance (comfort of the suit, ability to walk/crouch, usefulness of the pockets, etc). All crewmembers commented that MarsSkin was much more comfortable to wear, with far greater levels of reach and dexterity, and lower levels of fatigue. The suits were particularly beneficial in the hot weather, when perspiration was 'wicked' through the MCP garments.

Kurt Klaus (geologist) and James Waldie (engineer) during rock/soil sampling field trials.

Glove flexibility is noted as a critical item of suit design because of the difficulty in engineering a garment for the complex joints of the hand/fingers, and due to the importance of hand function in all EVA tasks. To give some insight into the impact of glove design, the MDRS suits were also worn with just the MarsSkin gloves. This hybrid suit was then graded by the subject according to the standard survey sheet. If the results of the hybrid are close to that of the full MCP suit, this gives reason to concentrate MCP development on just the gloves, rather than a full body suit.

Another comparative experiment was conducted on the helmets' field of view. The test was to see how much the different types of helmets reduce the astronaut's visual range. Using a calibrated rod that was moved around the test subject, the investigation measured how far back, up, and down the subject could see without a helmet, with a MarsSkin helmet and with a MDRS helmet. The results of the studies will be published in an upcoming volume of the American Astronautical Society Science and Technology Series, the Mars Society Advanced Suits Symposium, and the 5th Australian Space Science Conference (among others).

Current work on the MarsSkins revolve around new hard torso and helmet mounting structures for August deployment with the Victorian Space Science Centre in Melbourne. The developments will aid in producing more rugged suit systems for the secondary school students who will use the centre every day, and also for Mars-Oz deployments.

James Waldie
MarsSkin Project Manager

James Waldie on Skyline Rim (Olympus Mons in the background?)

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