Golden-age sci-fi fans, rejoice! The future is finally here. Your skintight spacesuit has arrived:
Dava Newman, a professor of aeronautics and astronautics and engineering systems at MIT… is working on a sleek, advanced suit designed to allow superior mobility when humans eventually reach Mars or return to the moon. Her spandex and nylon BioSuit is not your grandfather’s spacesuit–think more Spiderman, less John Glenn.
Newman’s prototype suit is a revolutionary departure from the traditional model. Instead of using gas pressurization, which exerts a force on the astronaut’s body to protect it from the vacuum of space, the suit relies on mechanical counter-pressure, which involves wrapping tight layers of material around the body. The trick is to make a suit that is skintight but stretches with the body, allowing freedom of movement.
Key to their design is the pattern of lines on the suit, which correspond to lines of non-extension (lines on the skin that don’t extend when you move your leg). Those lines provide a stiff “skeleton” of structural support, while providing maximal mobility.
Let’s see… private spacecraft, check; personal cleaning robots, check; skintight spacesuit, check; wrist computer with videphone, check; bionic limbs, check; OK, who’s working on the jetpacks?
Wired News posted commentary by Regina Lynn called The Uncomfortable Reality of Sex in Space, which asks intriguing questions about the social realities of long space voyages:
I don’t care if you have a same-sex crew of great-grandparents who have never had a flicker of sexual desire in their entire lives. Lock a group of humans into a ship, sail them through space and time, and it won’t take long for that deep, ancient need for touch and intimacy to surface.
She also provides some thought-provoking solutions:
If NASA invites me to take part in discussions about sexual standards in space — it could happen — I will suggest sending all candidates into the adult internet for a year… Online, astronauts (and their partners, if they have any) can learn how to deal with sexual situations similar to those they will face in space, with one important difference: an escape hatch.
It’s a fascinating (and entertaining) piece, definitely worth reading.
Two news items caught my attention today. Though they don’t actually have anything to do with each other, reading them one after the other evokes a certain comic-book planet:
An international team of astronomers from Switzerland, France and Portugal have discovered the most Earth-like planet outside our Solar System to date. The planet has a radius only 50 percent larger than Earth and is very likely to contain liquid water on its surface.
Unlike our Earth, this planet takes only 13 days to complete one orbit round its star. It is also 14 times closer to its star than the Earth is from the Sun. However, since its host star, the red dwarf Gliese 581, is smaller and colder than the Sun – and thus less luminous – the planet lies in the habitable zone, the region around a star where water could be liquid.
“We have estimated that the mean temperature of this super-Earth lies between 0 and 40 degrees Celsius, and water would thus be liquid,” said Stiphane Udry from the Geneva Observatory, Switzerland and lead-author of the paper in the journal Astronomy and Astrophysics.
The planet is about 20 light years away, definitely visiting distance. It would definitely be a strange new world, but the presence of water (and all that implies) puts it at the top of the list of Places To Investigate.
In other news, a new mineral was discovered in a mine in Serbia:
“Towards the end of my research I searched the web using the mineral’s chemical formula – sodium lithium boron silicate hydroxide – and was amazed to discover that same scientific name, written on a case of rock containing kryptonite stolen by Lex Luther from a museum in the film Superman Returns.
“The new mineral does not contain fluorine (which it does in the film) and is white rather than green but, in all other respects, the chemistry matches that for the rock containing kryptonite.”
Super-Earths, kryptonite… it just goes to show that truth is stranger than fiction. Now where’s that jet pack I ordered?
Buzz Aldrin announced something awesome today: a lottery to send some lucky winner into space.
Details of the competition are still sketchy, Aldrin said at a space investment conference on Wall Street Tuesday, with the legal status of selling lottery tickets still to be resolved.
He said the idea was to offer the top prize of a flight into Earth’s orbit, but it was not yet decided on what spacecraft.
So it’s not exactly “WIN A TRIP TO THE MOON!“, but it’s a nice first step in that direction.
[Hat tip to Patrick for the story link]
Forty-six years ago today, a human being first went into space. And it was this guy:
?? ?????????, Comrade Gagarin!