Suited up and ready to soar

If youre a common-sense snowmobiler, you wouldnt think twice about getting onboard your rig without an insulated snowsuit, warm gloves, and a safety helmet. If youre an astronaut working in the alien environment of space, or on the surface of another planet, youre also going to make sure youre well-suited for the task. Thats why NASA is developing two new, high-tech spacesuits. The suits will be worn by American and international crews serving the nation aboard the International Space Station and on the Moon. According to aviation and space medical expert Dr. Craig Freudenrich, consider what a complex spacesuit must do in the vacuum of space or on the lunar surface: Provide air to breathe because without it the wearer would be unconscious within 15 seconds there is no oxygen in space. Remove buildup of carbon dioxide due the wearer s exhalation. Protect the wearers body fluids that would otherwise boil away and then and freeze theres no air pressure out there. Protect the wearers skin, heart, and other organs that would otherwise expand because of boiling fluids. Insulate the wearer against extreme changes in temperature: From 248 degrees Fahrenheit (120 degrees C) in full sunlight to minus 148 degrees F (minus 100 degrees C) in darkness or even in the shade of a spacecraft, and... Protect the user from cosmic rays and lethal solar energy. NASAs new spacesuits will support operations of the next generation manned spacecraft, Orion. The suits will be designed for use in near space and for Moonwalks. But dont expect to see these new suits anytime soon; it will take a few years to develop them. And Orion wont be ready to fly before 2015, if all goes well. NASAs Constellation Program under which the new space-shuttle replacement Orion/Crew Exploration Vehicle (CEV) is being built requires two distinct spacesuits to meet missions designed for the space station and Moon. NASA has awarded the big spacesuit contract to Oceaneering International Inc. of Houston, a company that has developed many high-tech tools for oceanography as well as for oil and gas exploration. The suit projects subcontractors will also include two New England firms: Air-Lock Inc. of Milford, Conn., and David Clark Co. of Worcester, Mass., among others. The new NASA spacesuits will cost approximately $183.8 million to develop. The suits and associated life support systems will be needed for as many as six space-station astronauts. A second suit design will support future astronauts exploring and working on the Moonfrom week-long visits to up to six-months on the airless surface. Whats in the Sky: This weekend look for the star 14 Herculis high overhead in the constellation Hercules. This Sunlike star59 light years awayhas a mammoth planet in tow! The planet, 14 Herculis-c, is five times more massive than giant Jupiter. Lou Varricchio, M.Sc., lives in Middlebury, Vt. He is a former NASA science writer and is currently involved with the NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassador program in Vermont.

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