BioSuit: The Future of Space Gear Is Being Built Out of MIT

New materials and designs could allow outer-space travelers to move more freely.

Photo via TED Women/Dava Newman

Photo via TED Women/Dava Newman

One day, moving around in outer space—and walking on Mars—could become a whole lot more comfortable for astronauts, thanks to the innovative techniques being developed by an aeronautics professor at MIT.

“The BioSuit—the one that gets a lot of media coverage—is a concept no one has seen before, and we have been working on it for a long time,” said Dava Newman, professor of Aeronautics and Astronautics and Engineering Systems at MIT. “We are doing great research. If we were fully funded, we could have it working in two years, no problem.”

Newman has been working on various types of wearable outer-space gear with MIT students and designers from around the world for more than a decade, focusing specifically on three forms of aeronautics spacesuits: The BioSuit, an exercise suit, and a layer of material that can be worn inside of the typical bulky space gear that NASA astronauts have grown accustomed to during space missions.

Newman made waves at a recent TED talk in San Francisco last week, TED Women, where she showed off examples of the work she has been doing for the last 12 years.

According to Newman, the BioSuit, which captured the audience’s attention, is an example of “new wearable technologies” being developed at MIT’s Extra-Vehicular Activity Lab (EVA). The suit system could one day provide life support for astronauts in an atmosphere like the one on Mars by relying on the “mechanical counter-pressure” built into the suit, where pressure is applied to the entire body through a tight-fitting material. The suit is also equipped with a helmet to cover an explorer’s head.

“You have to apply a third of an atmosphere to keep someone alive in the vacuum of space. With polymers or stretchy elastic, you can get about 20 percent there, but we have to get to 30 percent to make it work. So now, using our active material, we have nailed the extra 10 percent so we can fully pressurize the suit,” said Newman. “When we go to another planet, we could definitely have a useable flight system going.”

Newman said the greatest problem with the standard suits that have allowed astronauts to survive in outer space for so many missions is their rigidity, which reduces their mobility both inside a spacecraft, and when performing repair work in space.

She said the air needed to supply the necessary pressure to the astronauts essentially turns them into “stiff balloons” that make movement difficult and tiring.

Her form-fitting BioSuit could one day allow space explorers to move “freely” and with more agility when performing their work. “Work in active materials is one of our big focuses,” said Newman.

The suit would also potentially be safer than a traditional suit. Newman said an abrasion or puncture in a bulky space suit would cause a major emergency, but a small breach in the BioSuit could be easily repaired.

While the idea is stellar, the money to launch the suit forward has caused the project to slow down a little. For years Newman said she was receiving funding from NASA, from 2000 through 2005. “Without funding, we are sort of working on this one student at a time,” she said, referencing the help she receives from those enrolled at MIT. “We have a pretty extensive plan to get to a flight system for the BioSuit, and if that were in place and funded, in two years of full-on work, we could be ready.”

In the meantime, focus has been shifted toward some of her other designs.

Newman said by 2015, an exercise counter-measure suit, which can be worn inside of a space vessel, will go to launch with the European Space Agency to the International Space Station for a short mission. “The blue suit, it’s great,” she said. “The suit recreates body weight loading. It’s basically like your—it’s comfortable enough you can wear it all day, but you also get the benefit of the Gravity Loading Counter Measure Suit.”

Newman said the “blue suit” helps offset “body loading” that’s lost when in space, due to the loss of gravity, and helps work the muscles. “Typically, a person will experience 30 percent muscle atrophy and 40 percent muscle loss on a longer mission,” she said. “They have to be very custom fit.”

Below is an illustration that explains some of the technology involved in bringing the BioSuit to life.

MIT

Illustration Courtesy of Cam Brensinger

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  • DJM2142

    Pretty cool.
    Why doesn’t the government get involved in funding stuff like this?

    • lan

      You’re joking, right? This project has no association with redistribution of wealth and corporate welfare. That’s why this government is not funding.

      Yes, it is pretty cool.

      • TexasGator

        Because the poor, lazy, uneducated, illegal and stupid (read – democrat) don’t have any need for this type of suit. You can lay on your fat lazy butt soaking welfare without one. its true – you can also go to a great job without one, but its the great job folks who fund science and exploration. Face it – the America you once knew and loved is over – stupid arse criminal obama has deleted it from existence.

      • Matt Piney

        More low-information people, is that all Drudge supplies the internet with?

        MIT has worked closely with the Feds with research since its inception.

        In 2009 alone:
        “The federal government was the largest source of sponsored research, with the Department of Health and Human Services granting $255.9 million, Department of Defense $97.5 million, Department of Energy $65.8 million, National Science Foundation $61.4 million, and NASA $27.4 million”

        It’s student have received 100’s of millions in federal grants and loans.

        • DJM2142

          Ok smarty then why did the article say they were low on funding?
          If the fed is so involved why isn’t it done like the lady said it could be if they had the money.
          Jeez, don’t get such a hard on for defending the government or for anyone criticizing it for that matter

          • Rich Barrett

            cause it takes MIT 100 million in funding just to sketch up a concept … :/

        • Erik11235813

          low-information? stop stealing rush limbaughs lines

      • DJM2142

        Well at least somebody got the joke.

        • Cajun Exile

          I have lived a full life. Astronauts in my youth. Female astronauts in my 20’s. Now skintight astrosuits complete camel toe in my middle age. My life is now complete.

    • Jerry S

      Let’s keep the Government out of this. Or it’ll take another 50 years to get to the moon…

    • ScottyGunn

      Seriously?

    • M T

      Because it is too busy consoling the idle.

  • jcw_industries

    Totally doable and easy to manufacture. How many people are walking on mars right now though? Market isn’t there.

    • Duck, I am

      True, but there are a lot of space cadets right here on earth

  • Steve

    How many are in outer space?

  • Steve

    They only need to invent a way for people to get to outer space.

  • Patrick

    OMG! They apply on the suit just like in HALO!

  • Lonnie Hull

    As soon as Martians need public assistance and can vote, there will be plenty of funding…

  • Oboy_must_go

    Do they have those suits in XXX-Large to fit the typical American woman?

    • Patick

      Plus sized people won’t be allowed into space until they get free energy.

  • David

    just get a Fremen suit

  • ScotFree

    But but but, shouldnt the government be funding this, since they can solve any problem? I mean, the very idea of a greedy, profiteering, evil CORPORATION coming up with innovative technology.

    We simply must write our congressperson, and put a stop to this power grab by private industry, since only the government can be trusted to engineer, maintain and dole out this vital technology…..Right? ……..Right?

  • IPOC

    Cameltoe suits..Woo Hoo!

    • ScottyGunn

      You nailed it!

    • sailordude

      Looks like they put a patch of material at that spot to hide it.

    • Clay Shaw

      I love me some camel toe.

  • 5T4ND4RD-01L

    Hands off — Mars and all its energy sources belong to ME!

  • christopher Lucy

    Its obviously too promising for our lame govt to support. She should let some other countries have at it or better yet steal the secret so they can develop&use it .

  • christopher Lucy

    Maybe private space programs will eclipse nasa I love capitalism

  • Ray Prescott

    The design already stolen by the chicoms

  • Arnold Ripkin

    Hope it has bomb bay doors.

  • Joshua B.

    I can see it now.. a bunch of pee fetish people living on mars.. mmmm I love my suit.. mmmm tastes so good… can I taste your suit.. cringe…

    Seriously.. You are going to die if you go… People are stupid.

    • Liberius Cato

      You’re also going to die if you don’t go. Everyone dies, that’s a given. An opportunity to be part of a grand adventure, or even a founding father of a new society? That’s far less common. There are ways to make a colony on Mars work, the main thing being that it has to be built underground in order to provide radiation shielding. Beyond that, it’s not too much different than living in a cavern complex like Coober Pedy, Austrailia except that you also need mechanisms to recycle oxygen, either greenhouses or air scrubbers like we currently use on spacecraft.

      • LeaveTheMatrix

        While underground may offer the best protection, this also makes costs and development of a colony more. There are other options as well. For example, if a water source can be found (even if undrinkable) then a inflatable habitat with “cells” in the walls can be filled with water and used as shielding. Its been found that materials that have high hydrogen contents, such as polyethylene can reduce primary and secondary radiation to a greater extent than metals, such as aluminum (2002 NASA study). http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Radiation_protection#Shielding_design and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Radiation_protection#ALARP

    • Patick

      If mankind doesn’t explore and spread out all of humanity will die.

  • James Brown

    Send the section 8 people to Mars promise them lots of free stuff and see how many are killed off in a year. Kind of a social experiment like we do here on Earth.

    • Patick

      They would kill themselves off before arrival.

  • Chuck Finley

    The first publication of the Martian skinsuit concept (with illustrations) was by engineer and author Robert A. Heinlein way back in 1949 in his novel ‘Red Planet’.

  • sailordude

    So you can smell your own farts without fanning them up? Awesome!

  • Jon Galt

    “We are doing great research. If we were fully funded, we could have it working in two years, no problem.”

    There are a lot of “important” things to fund. One of my favs was the study of shrimp on treadmills… http://cnsnews.com/news/article/us-government-has-spent-682570-study-shrimp-treadmill

  • Jim Rall

    Ok… what about radiation and micro meteor protection… how is suit temperature varied seeing it changes about 400 deg F between light and shadow.

    • Rojer Ramjet

      My first thought, Jim, was protection from micrometeors and space debris; there’s no protection for radiation in current suits, which is why I find the attention on manned Mars missions to be preposterous; astronauts on the ISS are still, at least partially, protected by the magnetosphere of the Earth; Mars has no magnetosphere.

      Neither does the moon.

      Long term habitation on another celestial body will require physical shielding; soil being the likely material used.

      But one would still be exposed to cosmic radiation when outside of a protected habitat, and at this point, we have no clue what the long term effects of exposure is likely to do.

      When it comes to thermal protection, I’m imagining that they will use liquid oxygen in the breathing system, so they would simply place a heat sink and a recirculating fan, somehow, within the breathable air loop, and exchange the hot air from the suit with a radiator system, which is completed.

      I don’t know how to explain what I’m meaning, other than it would likely be a heat-pipe system with sink, next to a “radiator” coil (closed loop) of liquid oxygen.

      As for heating the suit, you’d wear electrically heated undergarments; akin to the suits worn by dry-suit divers.

  • jasonburnstein

    Why are we wasting so much money developing ways to travel and live on other planets, while there are so many people living in poverty here on earth? By the way, how do you poop, pee or shower wearing that suit ?

    • Liberius Cato

      Because it’s not a waste. Technology developed for space travel has made life better on Earth in so many ways it’s difficult to count them all, from conveniences like Velcro to the robotic tools brain surgeons use.

      Not only are we developing new technologies that often have earthbound applications, but as we learn to live and work in space, we will open up new resources, which will mean more jobs for us Earthlings harvesting them and turning them into usable products.

      So yeah, we could get about a 1% increase in everyone’s food stamp or section 8 housing payments for what we spend on our space program… or we could be developing the things that will eventually grow our economy to a point where poverty will be a bad memory.

      • Strawberry Garcia

        There will always be poor, the percentage below poverty befor the great society is about the same now except we waisted trillions

      • Rich Barrett

        ahhhh honestly the amount of practical return we’ve gained from exploring space hasn’t been very much HOWEVER I firmly believe that we need to reach out beyond Earth as our populations are growing and the planet isn’t getting any bigger.

        Also, if you read the Bible you’ll notice that there were plenty of poor people who needed help to get by 2,000+ years ago – there will always be poor people until we can genetically modify all humans to not want to be poor….

        • Liberius Cato

          Poverty isn’t something anybody wants, it’s just a part of the human condition. You can spend trillions on it and not make a dent, you can have a computer assign everyone a perfectly equal share, hibernate for a year, wake up, and some will be rich and some will be poor. It all comes down to skill and chance in roughly equal parts, much like one giant game of poker.

        • Tommycat

          I dunno about that. We have gained a great deal from exploring space. Some is in learning about our own formation. Though much of our innovation has been from manned space exploration. Not from the missions themselves, but from the tools we needed to service and maintain those missions. The cordless drill comes to mind. Freeze dried food, Baby formula, The mouse. smaller more efficient computers. Solar panels, and a whole host of other fairly practical things came from the space program… Interestingly, Ironically, Tang, Teflon, and Velcro did not come from NASA…

          • Rich Barrett

            You’re pretty wrong about a lot of what you said. Freeze dried food started about early 1900’s. Baby formula had been around since the turn of the century, the mouse had it’s origins after WWII – not sure about a cordless drill but electric drills were in abundance long before the space industry and a quick check of Wikipedia shows solar cells being developed / used in this country long before we had a space program.

            There truth of the matter is there has been very little practical return coming from manned space missions. And those aren’t my words … I got the idea from a documentary I watched which provided facts which I then researched. Propaganda has us believing that space missions have given vast, real life benefits to people but it’s not true as of yet. :/

          • Tommycat

            Freeze drying was available during the early stages in the 1900’s, But it wasn’t until the 70’s that it was applied to food. Baby formula of today is a far cry from the stuff of early 20th century. NASA’s contribution is DHA and AHA used in nearly all formulas of today. It’s like saying that modern firefighting equipment is the same as 1900’s firefighting equipment. Or that the smart phones of today are the same as the bricks we used in the 1980’s. The modern advancements of these technologies are nowhere near the same thing, and would not have been developed if it weren’t for the space program. Or would have taken a lot longer to make it to a usable state.

            And the Mouse had it’s origins in WWII? Where is THAT information. Prior to the development of ARPANet and the 1960’s when they were making the computer NOT gigantic room filled machines strictly for arithmetic calculations.

          • Rich Barrett

            the first mouse type device was a trackball for a radar system coming out of Britain but the mouse as we know it was developed by Douglas Engelbart in 1963 for a non space related research project.

            I agree that the money and deadline for the moon missions and subsequent space missions required a leap forward in respective technologies, it does not mean that space itself has provided anything of value outside of intrinsic knowledge of space and how biological entities react in space. Had the government instead spent the money and gave an edict that in 1961 every American was going to have a computer before 1970 we probably would have amazing cheap computers today.

            The point I’m making is there is nothing new coming from space that we can use on earth. No new metals, ores, food, energy, etc. We’re just making some technology better on Earth to make our travel into space easier, safer and cheaper for astronauts. If we wanted better technology then we could cut out the middle man (space) and spend all the cash for Earth based projects.

          • Tommycat

            Saying that the new products from space are not new is like claiming that computers are not new because the typewriter existed before them. Cell phones are essentially radios that Marconi showed in the earliest days… We have Satellite radio, TV, international communication(the cables do not connect enough to give us this kind of coverage). Is the car the same as the carriage? They had similar functions, but are almost completely different. The better technology comes from the NEED to develop it. For instance THIS suit. While it’s primary use now may be for space, it could be adapted for use in treating severe injuries later. I mean the IR thermometer used by many parents and hospitals was based on the IR temperature measurement used on stars. Sometimes the need is not realized until after the invention is made.

            Some times it’s refined for space. I mean Black and Decker’s cordless tools prior to the space program used a lot of power. But they were made more efficient for the Apollo missions. Now, they are on every shelf. Because of the limited space and weight, Many of our tools were lightened.

            Then there’s the future of manufacturing which we have not even begun to work on as of yet, and considering that the Moon has large quantities of precious metals, it’s possible we could get manufacturing there. Mars has not really been explored much for metals, but it does have them. Then there are Jupiter and Saturn’s satellites. Some have water, liquid propane, and who knows what else.

            Then there’s the old ticking time bomb of us being a species that is only on one rock. If anything happens to this rock that we cannot control(There are loads of NEO’s with the capability to wipe us out). While none of them are a threat at this time, there’s more out there that we DON’T know about.

            Also, by understanding how other planets don’t support life and, as it looks, used to support life, we may learn how our own world works.

    • bd1143bc

      We needs mo money on EBT
      http://youtu.be/NzspsovNvII

    • Patick

      If humanity doesn’t spread out humanity will go extinct. Don’t worry you won’t be going anywhere. A new generation will.

    • David Weeks

      If they are poor, let them get a job. Fifty years of great society welfare has produced nothing but ghettos full of nonproductive bitter useless breeding sow parasites. Time to stop and do something useful.

    • JoeUSA

      Watch the James Bond movie “Moonraker” and you’ll have your answer.

  • bigfatslob

    Why we spends munys on dis, wees gots po chiln needs mo muny ‘n EBT.

  • Say What?

    I’m waiting for the bio bra.

    • Smith Wesson and Me

      It unhooks from mere thought waves.

  • Kalusa

    Sorry space junkies. We can’t fund everything. The regime has decreed that our priorities are “investing” in “green energy” companies (that later go bankrupt), cash for clunkers, free obamaphones, and “free” health care (with large deductibles, co-pays, & premiums) for “everyone” (except the 30 million that will remain uninsured). We can’t fund everything.

    • billmelater1

      The one that thinks he is great is noting more than a tin plated dictator.

  • Erik11235813

    what does “fully funded” mean. sounds vague. im sure for a trillion or 2 you can make most anything work in 2 years. it does look neat. not to take anything away from the innovations.

    • john_robinson

      I doubt the suit cost a trillion. The entire Apollo program, start to finish, didn’t even cost a quarter of that. In fact, Obama’s trip to Africa last summer – 100million – would have been more than enough.

  • roberto
  • billmelater1

    So with Obama’s world we CANT do this because we are a third world country. “S” him…. We are the leading technology country in the world. and Despite HIM we will prove it.

  • Clever Dude

    Wow…totally cool. Light weight and futuristic.

  • Strawberry Garcia

    I went to MIT spent twelve years and a few million dollars and all the gave me was this losy Lycra suit

    • Strawberry Garcia

      Damn auto correct, lousy

  • john_robinson

    Funding from 2000 to 2005 – in other words, during Bush and before the Democrats took complete control of congress in the 2006 election. Now, we don’t even have a manned space program, and NASA has been reduced to a climate modelling and muslim outreach program. Only a Progressive calls that progress.

    • Patick

      At least the POTUS opened space up for private contractors. It may be the only good thing he has done in his political life, but it may make a big difference.

      • StevenNewsom

        It has always been been to companies. Obama didn’t do that.

      • RedRover

        Whatever helps you sleep at night, shlLL.

    • TGrade1

      And we have to rely on the Russians for a ride to space. It didn’t take long to become a second rate power under the Democrats’ ideas.

    • TomJoadisJob

      So for the second half of GWB’s prezship, he signed off on cutting her funding.
      You’re doin’ a hell of a job Georgie!

      • Dennis Germain

        you act as if he had a choice, don’t you remember how hard he had to fight the Democrats just to protect our armed forces?

        • Smith Wesson and Me

          Question for you, genius, how does this demonstrate the scientific achievements of Islam? Because after all, that is the new mandate of King Obama’s NASA. Not going into space.

          • TomJoadisJob

            So you’ve read up on the past scientific achievements from the Middle East – good for you. Read up on the past achievements from the Far East, too?

            By Jan 18, 2008 NASA already had $12B cut from their FY05-12 plans.

        • TomJoadisJob

          That would be my fellow veterans he put in harms way?

          • Dennis Germain

            yes and the Democrats who voted for war so they could hold our armed forces hostage so they could force Bush to approve their spending, your blaming the wrong guy.

  • TheRealist II

    Designed for tough environments in space however if things keep[ going on in our environment we all will need one of those real soon!

    • Sencho

      If you have evidence that the Earth’s atmosphere is leaking away fast enough to make need of this suit on Earth in the near future I suggest you publish your findings, you’ll be rich beyond your wildest imaginings and famous to boot.

      Otherwise, perhaps you should look at real science before invoking the theology of Environmentalism.

  • JoeUSA

    Idiots, they’re all gonna die in space from radiation.

  • McNabb

    Is it me or does the graphic designs on this female spacesuit accentuate the astronauts chest and camel toe? Typical MIT nerds, building a space suit to make female astronauts look more “sexy”. She may look like a hot heroine from the comic books or a video game, meanwhile the poor girl dies in space so some nerd can get his jollies.

    Nerd – umm yes you must be naked so that our laser device can fit you for the space suit. Giggity – the computers says your a size 4.

    Female astronaut – hey that is my dress size. I could have told you that.

    Nerd – But this million dollar laser scanner has to make sure.

  • BrianB

    The sheer ignorance shared by the left on here is nauseating. Those who question the science, apply to MIT, join her class and let her know this thing called radiation you learned about in 8th grade science means that all her work and science is worthless. I’m guessing that she completely missed that class.

    • otw_old_school

      I’m sure there would be an outer layer for protection from cosmic radiation. It just would not need to be “pressurized.”

      • Stblublood

        There is no protection from cosmic rays (other than our atmosphere). It’s not a suit for long term exposure. It’s just a replacement for the big bulky ones they use now. A trip to Mars is a death sentence.

    • McNabb

      I love your use of “sheer ignorance” of those questioning the science and doubting the work done by MIT are “from the left”…LOL. You must be one of those Drudge Zombies.

      • kthomp1123

        I’m a Drudge reader and I just slammed him.
        You must be one of those Huffpost Snobs.

        • McNabb

          Actually I got the link off of Drudge too. However a Drudge Zombie is someone who links off of drudge, goes to the comment section after barely reading the article and blames Obama and/or the Left. The article could be about new space suits or why puppies are so cute and the comments will read…”Its Obama’s Fault” or “I blame liberals for this mess”

          • kthomp1123

            Gotcha, my mistake!

    • kthomp1123

      looks at me, I’m so smart, I’m so smart…that’s why I work a regular joe job while these people are at MIT changing the world.
      Brian, no one cares about you – no one cares about your thoughts – you are not a special butterfly.
      You are a voiceless image with characters next to your dog’s picture on the internet- while this woman changes the world.

      • BrianB

        Your ability make a point is about as clear as your writing. Maybe it would be best to explain what I mean. Punctuation is the difference between helping your Uncle Jack off a horse and helping your uncle… I hope you get the idea.

        Next, I was in favor of her work. Your sad attempt to attack me only shows your inability to comprehend those “characters next to my dogs head”. Witty is not worth the paper it’s written on. It is an individuals attempt to hide the fact that they lack the knowledge to discuss the subject in a fruitful and constructive manner with dignity and respect, but it’s ok, we accept comments, coherent or not, from the peanut gallery. We just hope you don’t vote.

        • kthomp1123

          Brian.
          You edited your original post. Therefore commenting on your response post to mine is unnecessary.
          You can’t edit your post, argue with mine which was about your unedited post, and then expect a reasonable response.

  • guest

    i wouldn’t be able to stop looking at her camel toe in that suit

  • sanfordandsons

    I’m not sure if I could go a year without wiping my butt.

    • Smith Wesson and Me

      The French do it their whole life. Racist!

      • Jack Crowe

        Where’s the racism?

  • Michelle Houghtaling

    If it’s not Muslim, Obama doesn’t want it.

    • Erin Ammon

      I think you may have misread this article.

  • kthomp1123

    Ted Women. Ted this, Ted that. Why not just Ted.

  • leekellerking
  • Bruiser in Houston

    A concept no one has seen before? This flexible space suit was a staple of Jerry Pournelle’s and Larry Niven’s works, and NASA tinkered with this idea back in the late 70s and early 80s.

    This is a really neat concept, and I hope it goes forward, but the suit is simply an old idea brought to reality through improved technology.