How does NASA train it’s astronauts for spacewalks on the International Space Station? Mainly, in the Neutral Buoyancy Lab. The question often comes up, and this week it was coming from TheChive.com asking “does NASA really need the largest indoor body of water in the world to help train our astronauts?”
Author Lee Hutchinson details a day in the life at the NBL, and provides a unique behind-the-scenes look into all the work that goes into making a successful training event happen. From SCUBA divers to crane technicians to the astronauts themselves, this article is a must-read!
If you’ve been following the spacesuit industry long enough, you may have heard the names Ted Southern (formerly the designer of Victoria’s Secret angel wings) and Nikolay Moiseev – they began as competitors in the inaugural Astronaut Glove Challenge sponsored by NASA and ended up as business partners at Final Frontier Design.
In this article on GM’s media website, they tout a new robotic technology, developed using some of the same principals of Robonaut 2, “that auto workers and astronauts can wear to help do their respective jobs better while potentially reducing the risk of repetitive stress injuries.”
While the GM article continues on about the many benefits to reducing the amount of force required during a spacewalk, they completely miss the boat on the use of this technology in space. While the article outlines how this glove can improve safety and productivity on the shop floor in an auto industry, this would not be the case on a spacewalk.
Since NASA entered into the spacewalking business in 1965, engineers have wrestled with the trade-off of increasing safety margins by bulking up the spacesuit, and providing the astronaut mobility and tactility while working. The glove is the most vulnerable part of the Extravehicular Mobility Unit (or “E-M-U” NASA’s spacesuit since 1982), because it has to be to allow the astronaut the tactility and mobility to work productively and in a timely manner.
While GM has a great technology to improve the automotive industry, in this case it doesn’t correlate to improving a spacewalk.
In my opinion, combining this technology with integrated haptic vibro feedback and Halting State style air-writing accelerometer capability might be an interesting solution.
“According to Barron’s Richard Adams, the plan would be to build “a small vibrating element” into spacesuit gloves “to create a surrogate for the tactile sense lost behind the insulating and protective layers”.
“Combined with a projection display on the helmet visor, this might allow a suited-up space ace to type away on a virtual keyboard hanging in the air in front of him or her – and feel the keystrokes.”
This technology would be easily applicable on Earth. “It just might be that we’ll all find ourselves in future pulling on a set of air-typing gloves and flipping down our vid-specs rather than sitting down and balancing our laptops on our knees or fondling away at our tablets.”