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Rhode Island Design Students Work With NASA On Mars Space Suit

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Students and staff members at the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) have teamed up with NASA to build a new space suit design that can easily be adjusted to fit the bodies of future Mars explorers.

With NASA planning to send people to the Red Planet in the next few decades, researchers now have to come up with better gear to handle the environment of deep space. However, designing new space suits that would work in zero gravity can be a challenge.

Those used for Mars simulation missions in Hawaii are smaller than typical zero gravity suits and have poor ventilation, making them quite an uncomfortable thing to wear for astronauts. The materials used for the simulated space suits also wear out easily.

To solve this problem, NASA collaborated with the RISD to develop a new and better space suit specially designed for the Red Planet mission. Both parties unveiled the breakthrough Mars suit on Monday, Dec. 5, and are now getting ready to have it tested during the next mission tests in Hawaii in 2017.

Adjustable Mars Space Suit

Aside from making the new space suit more durable during testing, the designers also had to make sure that it fits the bodies of wearers properly without sacrificing mobility.

Andrzej Stewart, one of the engineers involved in NASA's Hawaii Space Exploration Analog and Simulation (HI-SEAS) program, said he had to wear a hazmat suit during the tests because he was too tall for the simulation suit he was given.

While this may have worked during the simulations in Hawaii, it wouldn't be realistic as astronauts cannot wear hazmat suits in space.

Sheyna Gifford, the space doctor for the Mars simulation mission, pointed out that crew members need to have realistic space suits to find out what experiments they can do and what specific tools they can use while wearing them.

She said that the suits will also play an important role in determining the appropriate design for the crew members' habitats.

"What we're aiming for is the best possible simulation, to inform NASA about what we learned on that simulation so they can succeed in the real thing," Gifford explained.

During Monday's presentation, Stewart wore the new suit made by the RISD designers to find out how it will fit him and how he'll be able to move while wearing it.

Not only did the suit fit Stewart's 6-foot and 2-inch frame, but it also allowed him to move around without restricting motion. He said that its ventilation also helped keep him cool throughout the test.

According to the designers, the new suit was made from heavy-duty nylon fabric as well as carbon fiber that has a hard shell for its upper torso portion. It also has a type of foam that recreates the pressurization often seen in actual space suits.

The RISD suit comes in 16 different pieces, with each one easily replaced or resized in order to fit any body size. It also weighs only about 50 pounds.

Michael Lye, one of the RISD faculty members working on the project, said that the new space suit costs about $10,000 to make. The one that Stewart wore on Monday will now be shipped to Hawaii for next year's HI-SEAS testing.

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