SPACESUIT WITH A TAKE-ME-HOME BUT­TON

Popular Mechanics (South Africa) - - How your world works -

The night­mare of float­ing off from a space sta­tion is pal­pa­ble for any­one who dreams of leav­ing Earth (or has seen Grav­ity). But there’s good news for fu­ture as­tro­nauts and space tourists: Draper re­search lab has patented an au­ton­o­mous in-spacesuit nav­i­ga­tion sys­tem that re­turns the suit to the pres­sure lock if the wearer be­comes un­teth­ered or in­ca­pac­i­tated. Draper calls it Take Me Home, and it com­bines GPS, gy­ro­scopes, ac­celerom­e­ters, and star maps to de­ter­mine an as­tro­naut’s po­si­tion and pi­lot the spacesuit to safety. The trou­ble with nav­i­gat­ing open space, says Kevin Duda, a space sys­tems en­gi­neer at Draper, is that as­tro­nauts can’t rely on the nav­i­ga­tional cues hu­mans know to in­ter­pret, like the hori­zon or car­di­nal di­rec­tions. “We just haven’t evolved to un­der­stand or­bital me­chan­ics.” The hard­ware is still be­ing pro­to­typed and is at least five years from be­ing used, but Draper has be­gun test­ing its nav­i­ga­tion tech­nol­ogy in the model ISS at John­son Space Cen­ter. Duda says Take Me Home could be adapted for divers, fire­fight­ers, and any en­vi­ron­ment where it’s hard to tell up from down.

The sys­tem would en­hance ex­ist­ing suits like this one by adding real-time po­si­tion­ing and nav­i­ga­tion ca­pa­bil­i­ties.

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