NASA crowdsources spacesuit durability testing
We know from our experiences on the Moon that EVA suits undergo significant abrasion and wear over the course of a mission, and with NASA's eyes fixed firmly on a mission to Mars, the next generation of spacesuits will be thrown into the unknown. In an effort to establish how they will perform, NASA has announced a competition soliciting ideas on how to test the durability of fabrics with the potential to be used in its next-gen space suits.
Current spacesuits areoptimized for low-Earth orbit, meaning that while they have adegree of damage resistance, they're not quite hardy enough for venturing further afield. Followingmissions to the Moon during the Apollo era, Apollo 12 CommanderCharles Conrad reported serious abrasion to his suit after only eighthours of EVA activity, which had breached the outer material of hisboots and impacted their thermal properties.
A mission to Mars wouldrequire astronauts to undertake numerous EVAs, and a replacementspacesuit would be roughly 140 million miles awayshould the gear wear out prematurely. It's therefore essential todevelop methods of testing the strength of materials to ensure thatthe final suit is up to the task.
"NASA is developingthe next generation of suit technologies that will enable deep spaceexploration by incorporating advancements in science and technology," says Jason Crusan, director of Advanced Exploration Systems inNASA’s Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate. "Wehave learned a lot about space suit performance through ourexperience on the International Space Station, and designing for aplanetary surface will require us to build on that knowledge."
The agency is askingentrants to create a test with the ability to simulate the level offiber degradation associated with exposure to lunar dust and dirt.The results will need to detail any damage (such as cuts, colorchanges or tears) caused to the material, as well as detail the sizeand volume of particles that make it through the various layers ofthe garment.
Upon completion of thecompetition, NASA expects to award three US$5,000 prizes.
Details on how to apply can be found here.