NOTE: For high resolution photos, please visit http://www.uh.edu/admin/media/nr/2007/
WALKING TALL: UH STUDENT WORKING ON SPACE
SUIT REDESIGN FOR NASA
Graduate Student’s Research Focuses on Stability and Locomotion
HOUSTON, Feb. 5, 2007—Space suits for astronauts may get
a new and better design following a University of Houston doctoral
student’s locomotion stability research. Melissa Scott-Pandorf
is a Fellow of the Texas Space Grant Consortium.
“NASA’s mission to send humans back to the Moon is
closer to a reality every day,” Scott-Pandorf, a doctoral
student in the UH Department of Health and Human Performance, said.
“Astronauts will need to travel easily over the planet’s
terrain, meaning their mobility will be important for overall mission
To begin her study, Scott-Pandorf looked at hours and hours of
lunar moon-walk video to determine how fast and how far astronauts
traveled wearing all of the needed equipment. That information,
combined with metabolic indicators collected while the astronauts
worked on the lunar surface, was used to calculate the amount of
energy expelled while walking on the moon. Scott-Pandorf said this
is valuable information that will help NASA officials decide how
much is too much to include on an astronaut’s space suit.
“I can’t tell you how many times I watched the astronauts
fall down on the lunar videos,” she joked. “Obviously,
it isn’t meant to be funny. But it’s difficult for them
to get up with the survival pack on their back and those bulky suits.
We’re hoping our new research projects will lead to a streamlined
space suit that makes it easy to navigate the terrain.”
As part of her new work, Scott-Pandorf uses a weight suspension
system in the UH Laboratory of Integrated Physiology (LIP). The
apparatus is used as a reduced gravity simulator that helps to evaluate
locomotion stability. A subject is buckled into the suspension system
and simply walks as Scott-Pandorf records data about the person’s
gait. With this system, she can investigate how mass distribution
and pressure levels of the space suit may influence the ease in
which astronauts travel a planet’s terrain.
“For one thing, it’s clear that the placement of the
life support pack is too high on the astronaut,” Scott-Pandorf
said. “Possible redesign ideas are to alter the pack to fit
the front and back of the space suit evenly or create a pack that
attaches closer to the waist, which would lower the astronaut’s
center of gravity. It’s the same idea as if you were balancing
on a surf board bending your knees and staying low. This lowers
your center of mass and allows you more stability.”
Scott-Pandorf is also considering research to investigate the mobility
needed at the joints of the space suit that would allow an astronaut
to move more naturally, making it easier to recover from a fall
or to keep from falling at all.
“In addition, the space suspension system we are using is
similar to what has been used as therapy tools for persons with
spinal cord injuries or the elderly. Conceivably using the system
for our research could usher in new ideas for new therapies for
those populations,” Scott-Pandorf said.
The Texas Space Grant Consortium was founded in 1989 and is comprised
of 34 universities, industrial organizations, non-profit organizations
and government agencies within the state. The consortium supports
educational and research projects that further NASA’s mission:
to protect and understand our planet, improve life on Earth, extend
life beyond our planet and explore the universe. Scott-Pandorf will
work with NASA and UH for the extent of her fellowship.
Scott-Pandorf’s research on locomotion has included assisting
UH Professor Max Kurz in his study of stability and locomotion.
In that study, he recorded the waddling of penguins to determine
how the manner of movement assisted in crossing rugged terrain.
For more information on this study, please visit www.uh.edu/admin/media/nr/2006/01jan/011206kurtzpenguins.html
For more information on the UH Department of Health and Human Performance,
please visit www.hhp.uh.edu/.
For more information on the Texas Space Grant Consortium, please
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