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Feeling the pressure

An Extravehicular Mobility Unit, or EMU

An Extravehicular Mobility Unit, or EMU

I always end my blog entries with the word “dream”.

Let’s think about this for a moment. In the context I use it, it’s meant that we should think about the future and what it may hold. In another context, a dream is our subconscious mind at work while we sleep.

But dreams, both of the future and the subconscious, are not always pleasant. If they get unpleasant enough, we call them “nightmares”.

So what would be a good example of a nightmare in the context of space?

How about a micrometeorite, about the size of a grain of sand, or maybe even a pebble, impacting your ship or space station while moving at several thousand miles (ok, or kilometers) per hour. The damage would be done before anyone aboard would know what had happened, and if there’s a hull breach, the crew would have a serious problem.

Depending on the exact circumstances, the ship or station could potentially depressurize to lethal levels in a matter of minutes.

So what is a hapless astronaut to do? Take a couple minutes, grab his (or her) trusty spacesuit, climb into it, and survive the day, of course!

Yeah…ummm…no.

We see it in the movies often, but the reality is quite different. Just putting on a pressure suit can be done in as little as 15 minutes (which could still be far too much time to save the astronaut). However, putting it on correctly, meaning with all the necessary preparation, both for the suit and the astronaut using it, can take up to 2 hours.

And if the normal preparation steps are skipped in favor of speed? Well, the user would probably develop a rather painful condition called the Bends, which means there are nitrogen bubbles in their blood stream, and they could find the faceplate of the helmet becomes so fogged up that they’d be unable to do anything anyway.

And that’s assuming the seals between all the different parts are mated correctly and there are no leaks in the suit itself. After all, a lifeboat with a hole in it is no better than the sinking ship.

And none of the above even takes into account that it takes help from at least one other person for someone to put a space suit on.

For more information, take a look at these links:

http://www.asc-csa.gc.ca/pdf/educator-donning.pdf and

http://science.howstuffworks.com/space-suit6.html

So what’s the next step in pressure suits? What ideas do you have for making a space suit that could be donned faster or without the help of another astronaut? These are difficult problems requiring serious thought. The more people thinking about the problem, though, the better the solutions will be.

And although you knew this was coming…

Dream.

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