Spacesuits Of The Future May Feature "Take Me Home" Buttons To Bring Back Astray Astronauts

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Astronaut Ed Lee conducts the first spacewalk on June 3, 1965 (Photo Credit: NASA)

Science fiction thrillers frequently feature accidents that cause astronauts to float away into space. Though this has yet to happen in the real world, it is a risk every astronaut is well-aware of when embarking on a spacewalk or Extra Vehicular Activity (EVA). To prevent the nightmare scenario, space explorers are not only tethered to the spacecraft but also fitted with a backup safety kit.

Dubbed Simplified Aid For EVA Rescue (SAFER), the “life jacket,” which is worn like a backpack, contains a bottle of pressurized nitrogen and tiny thrusters. In the unlikely event that an astronaut gets untethered, he/she can use the joy-stick-like controller attached to the front of the spacesuit to return to the spacecraft. The only drawback is that SAFER is manually operated, which means it is of no use if the astronaut becomes unconscious, gets injured, or is simply too panicked to navigate back. The system also requires an extensive amount of ground training.

SAFER system (Image Credit: NASA)

To solve the problem, the Charles Stark Draper Laboratory, a Massachusetts-based non-profit research company, is working with NASA to create an application to automate SAFER. Dubbed “take me home,” it entails fitting spacesuits with sensors that monitor the astronaut’s movement, acceleration, and relative position to a stationary spacecraft. Since there is no GPS in deep space, the team has devised two clever ways to determine the astronaut’s exact location. The first uses a high-resolution camera to capture the landmarks around the astronaut, while the second method keeps track of his/her location with the help of the surrounding stars.

In case of an emergency, the spacefarer can simply press a button, and the system will take control of the thrusters and transport him/her back to the spacecraft. More importantly, the button can be remotely activated by a crew member or mission controller to rescue an astronaut in distress. According to the inventors, the smart system will find the safest and most efficient way to bring the spacewalker back.

Astronaut Mark Lee was the first to test SAFER in 1994 (Photo Credit: NASA)

The team, which filed for a design patent in late 2017, has tested the “take me home” technology successfully in simulations. But to make it a reality, they will need long-term funding from NASA. Kevin Duda, a space systems engineer at the laboratory, says, “The technology we believe is there to package into a solution. It’s just a matter of commitment from the customer to make this a reality.” He believes that once ready, it would be useful for a variety of other applications, including assisting firefighters to navigate through smoke-filled rooms, enabling skydivers to land safely, and even bringing disoriented deep sea divers back to the surface.

Resources: newatlas.com, theverge.com, spaceref.com

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accelerationautomatecommitmentdeviseddisorienteddistressdrawbackefficientextensivefrequentlylandmarksmanuallymonitornavigatepanickedpatentpressurizedremotelyscenariosimulationstetheredthrustersunconscious
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Reading Comprehension (9 questions)

  1. What risk do astronauts face when going on a spacewalk?
  2. What safety measures ensure the astronauts are safe?
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Critical Thinking Challenge

Why is the remote activation of the “take me home” button important?

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Vocabulary in Context

“The only drawback is that SAFER is manually operated, which means it is of no use if the astronaut becomes unconscious, gets injured, or is simply...

341 Comments
  • stranger dangerMonday, December 10, 2018 at 6:32 am
    I/love it
    • pugdudepro1546
      pugdudepro1546Wednesday, December 5, 2018 at 8:53 am
      that all he sayd made my head hurt
      • InnfernoSunday, November 4, 2018 at 10:10 am
        ikr if I was floating into SPACE like omg
        • Space Waffle Monday, October 1, 2018 at 6:10 pm
          I would hate to fly away into space!! D:
          • ajg15
            ajg15Sunday, September 16, 2018 at 12:54 pm
            This is a good idea
            • slytherinfan
              slytherinfanSunday, September 16, 2018 at 8:30 am
              Floating off into space..... MY WORST NIGHTMARE!!!
              • mrmars06
                mrmars06Tuesday, August 28, 2018 at 4:54 pm
                CCOOOOLL
                • SawyerThursday, May 24, 2018 at 9:59 am
                  space is AWESOME, PLEASE write more articles about stuff like this or things on mars or alien life, These articles are AWESOME
                  • Matthew JMonday, May 21, 2018 at 10:46 am
                    This is surpriseing
                    • iegwonThursday, May 10, 2018 at 8:47 am
                      space is a lot to learn about for a 1st grader

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