A Brief Look at how Analog Space Suits Help to Develop Future of Planetary Extra Vehicular Activities

The Hawaii Space Exploration Analog and Simulation (HI-SEAS) study currently being conducted on the slopes of Mauna Loa focuses on human factors and group cohesion. Both of these focuses are vitally important for Extra Vehicular Activities (EVAs) and for future planetary exploration; providing constraints that could make or break a mission. The Apollo missions broadened humanities reach into the space through stringent training and an understanding of the minimal human factors requirements to support a two man EVA team. These early lunar EVAs performed localized analysis and sample collection around the lunar landing sites leading to discoveries that helped to define the origins of the moon.  

Why were these Apollo missions so successful? I am not sure that this can be narrowed down to just one factor and was certainly due in part to dynamic training, technological development, and crew selection (Having 1% of the US GDP didn’t hurt either). The Apollo missions developed an early standard for planetary EVAs and are responsible for significant knowledge on the challenges of exploring another planetary body. These missions helped to pave the way for man’s next curious tip toe into the solar system.

Researchers have already begun utilizing planetary analog sites to explore the best methods for future manned exploration. Analog sites such as the HI-SEAS allow a crew to work and live in isolation while attempting to perform scientific objectives and EVAs as they would if they were suddenly transplanted to Mars. Even within the safety of Earth’s biosphere EVAs have the highest potential for real injury and require teams to develop procedures and strict guidelines to ensure safety. The crew at the HI-SEAS treats the outside as if it was an inhospitable environment and they never leave the habitat without an analog suit.

To accommodate the Mars simulation the HI-SEAS provides two styles of analog suits, the MX-C developed by the University of Maryland and a modified Hazmat suit. The MX-C has been designed to simulate the mobility issues caused by pressurized suits and weighs about 50 pounds. This suit comes with a ventilation system that pushes outside ambient air through the suit and a liquid cooling garment (LCG) system to keep the occupant cooler. The Hazmat suits have been modified with two ventilation fans that pull outside air into the suit to help keep air flow and to keep the occupant cool. Both suits isolate and restrict the crew members’ mobility while on EVA allowing for a more realistic EVA experience.

Above: Tiffany Swarmer poses for a photo in the modified Hazmat suit while setting up an agility course to test the suit capabilities.

 

Above: Annie Caraccio tests out fine motor control with the University of Maryland’s MX-C suit.

So how does understanding the limitations and capabilities of suits designed for terrestrial analogs help develop the next generation EVA suits and equipment? Analog suits can look realistic or can seem a little farfetched, but both serve as valuable tools in understanding the concerns for manned exploration of other worlds. The HI-SEAS utilizes it unique location and geologic similarity to the Martian Tharsis region to test out scientific sampling techniques, analysis of suit metrics, and development of safe EVA practices. Teams of two to four crew members can exit the habitat utilizing either suit type to explore the surrounding area, collect samples, map the area, and provide visual data much like the Apollo astronauts and eventually like the first Martian explorers. The technologies and procedures developed at these analog sites will be important for ensuring the safety of future Marsonaut explorers.

Above: HI-SEAS crew members Tiffany Swarmer (Hazmat) and Annie Caraccio (MX-C) test out the capabilities between the two analog suits by manipulating various types of tools and equipment. Seen in the background is the HI-SEAS habitat and the lava fields on the slopes of Mauna Loa.

 

 

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