SPACESUIT WITH A TAKE-ME-HOME BUTTON
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.