Space suit fail? Single-person spacecraft could soon be a thing

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Feb 7, 2018, 5:25 PM EST

Space suits may appear to be able to withstand alien particles and killer radiation among the universe of dangers they encounter out there, but they aren’t so impermeable as they look.

If an astronaut experiences a space suit fail, it can be potentially life-threatening, as Space.com observed. There are always things flying around in space, like micrometeoroids, which can puncture even the most protective materials. Those have nothing on suit malfunctions. Astronaut Luca Parmitano nearly drowned when his suit unexpectedly leaked during an ISS spacewalk in 2013, which was aborted immediately by NASA in what the space agency referred to as a “high-visibility close call.” The culprit? A mystery clog in one of the suit’s filters.

When you’re in space, at least NASA can hear you scream, but no one should be suffering a near-death experience in microgravity hundreds of miles from the ground. This is where Genesis Engineering Solutions comes in with an ingenious idea.

Maybe you remember those retro sci-fi movies in which an astronaut would pilot a spacecraft that fit exactly one person, or how Spock Prime is navigating space alone in the Jellyfish, which his younger self from an alternate timeline is also seen manning later, before he gets sucked into a wormhole in the 2009 Star Trek movie reboot. This is kind of like that. What Genesis dreamed up is a single-person spacecraft (SPS) that would basically be space armor for astronauts.

“When extra-vehicular activity (EVA) in space has required an astronaut with spacesuit there are inherent challenges,” Genesis says on its site. “The SPS has advantages for both the astronaut and the overall activities that need to be accomplished.”

The spacecraft, which looks kind of like R2-D2 with a bubble helmet and robotic arms, can be a lifesaver when it comes to servicing the ISS, Near-Earth objects (NEOs), satellites, telescopes, and possibly NASA’s proposed Deep Space Gateway that will orbit the moon and be a takeoff point for Mars and beyond (if that ever becomes a reality). This thing can operate with or without a human inside, though if there is going to be a human controlling it, no pre-breathing or airlock is required.

Through shirtsleeve operations, crew members cans save their hands from injury by using its appendages to reach out and perform repairs. In the future it could also be picking up moon rocks or Martian regolith. Unlike a space suit, the SPS can also fit anyone. 

Genesis sees the SPS as being attached to the mothership, but it will have a high fuel capacity and be able to propel itself through space lightning-fast.

The SPS design just passed a critical “fit testing” at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center. Since there was no microgravity bubble, a pool was used to simulate the nearly zero-G environment of space, with scuba divers of every body shape and size shimmying into a mock spacecraft from the bottom. Testers would also stand on the footrests, look through the bubble-helmet window, and have an awesome '80s arcade flashback with the the joysticks that maneuver its robotic arms.

Now that Genesis knows the SPS can function in space, they’ll be leveling up the testing. You might be seeing a test flight sooner than you think.

(via Space.com)