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Smart clothing on Mars: Spacesuits and Biosensitive Style

February 5, 2018

Presently, extraplanetary attire is relegated to a sophisticated class of spacesuits designed to withstand the conditions beyond Earth’s atmosphere. All serve the ultimate purpose of protecting and preserving human life in otherwise uninhabitable surroundings. Some are meant to be worn within a spacecraft as it ascends and engages into gravitational orbit. Others are built to enable spacewalks and surface treks across the moon, passing asteroids and the neighboring planet of Mars.

Until recently, the idea of enhancing spacesuits with fashion accents and stylish flair has been secondary to pure functionality. After all, these triumphs of modern engineering are essentially human-shaped one-person spacecrafts. With the exception of a patriotic patch here and a space agency logo there, astronaut attire has yet to address any concerns beyond providing protective, biosensitive habitats for keeping humans protected in space.

Organizations such as NASA and SpaceX have stated with absolute certainty that human expansion onto Mars is imminent. Whether it occurs sooner than later depends on how quickly interplanetary travel tech advances. Regardless, one phenomenon is highly probable after a sustainable habitat is secured. Once humans colonize Mars and establish a successful biosphere, the more pedestrian concerns of fashion and style will most likely advance to the fore.


Blaze the Trail

If you’re lucky enough to be one of the first inhabitants of Mars, you will be an essential component of an elite team. One of your many tasks will be to explore the planet’s surface gathering environmental and geological data. In order to do this, you will need to wear a spacesuit specifically designed to withstand the planet’s surface conditions. These include a carbon dioxide atmosphere and extreme temperatures as low as negative 140 degrees Celsius (minus 284 degrees Fahrenheit).

Your protective gear will also need to be sufficiently engineered against solar radiation. Unlike Earth, Mars’ magnetic field is not significant enough to deflect harmful waves of energy constantly emanating from the sun. Additionally, your suit will need to endure a constant bombardment of fine granules of dust called micrometeorites. Currently, two distinct space suit prototypes are being developed to withstand the harsh Martian climate.


Climb Inside

The Z-2 spacesuit developed by NASA is an Extravehicular Mobility Unit (EMU). This is the latest prototype specifically tailored for the Martian climate. Unlike most preceding designs, this suit is docked on the outside of a pressurized exploration vehicle. Rather than “put on” it is “slid into” from a port at the back of the suit.

Nasa’s Z-2 is the winner of a public poll involving three distinct models and is the first spacesuit to feature designs that pay homage to a specific piece science fiction. That’s right, this space suit actually includes electroluminescent stripes reminiscent of the suits in the movie Tron. Should you find yourself traipsing across the dusty terrain of Mars in a Z-2, not only will you will be one of the first Earthlings to walk on the planet’s surface — you’ll be doing so with some degree of style.


Stay Cool

Multiple layers of insulation and the effort required to move in a spacesuit will cause you to generate considerable metabolic heat. For this reason, beneath EMUs like the Martian Z-2, you would wear a type of skin-tight ventilation and liquid cooling garment. These space long johns have been in use for decades, and could be considered some of the first wearable tech. They contain coils of tubing that circulate water across every region of your body to cool it off while you work.

Skin tight fabric stretching from your ankles and wrists up to your neck contain sensors to keep track of heart rate as well as CO2 build-up within the suit. If abnormal readings are detected, the biosensitive clothing alerts you of danger so that you can make the necessary adjustments.


Dare to be Different

Most planetary scientists agree that if you’re going to the red planet, EMUs and biosensitive underclothing will be important parts of your wardrobe. Yet, there are other ideas afoot that are equally compelling. Instead of a clunky, pressurized, difficult to maneuver spacesuit, you could be exploring in a sleek set of threads that allow for earth-like flexibility and range of motion. The BioSuit observes the principle that precise levels of pressure are needed to maintain human biological functions in space. Rather than achieve it by filling up a spacesuit like a balloon, however, it would be done through direct contact across every inch of your body.

Over 1,000 feet of webbing held together with over 140,000 stitches would stretch, curve and zigzag across your torso and limbs. This design provides mechanical counter pressure while tracking all biometric data through sensors woven into the fabric. The goal of this design is to allow you to safely explore the surface of Mars with maximum mobility, minimal effort and the ability to tell the difference between a man and a woman in a spacesuit.


Exercise to Survive

Due to a smaller planetary mass, gravity on Mars is approximately one-third of that on Earth — 38 percent to be exact. This means that in order to prevent rapid loss of bone density and muscle mass, you will have to work out every day as a necessary means of survival. To make sure you are getting sufficient exercise and staying healthy, you will need to constantly monitor your heart rate, breathing patterns, body temperature, and blood pressure.

The best way to do this is through the same biosensitive clothing you wear in your spacesuit. Perhaps you will have the time and means to put a personal spin on your daily garb. Unless, of course, you want to look like you’re always wearing long johns. Maybe if you’re lucky, mission control will let you pick out some stylish smart garments made by an innovative company before you leave Earth.


Function with Style

Aside from the dangers of surface exposure and the concerns of tissue atrophy, there is the matter of everyday life within a pressurized living area — aka a biodome. In the event that the sealed environment is breached by a meteorite or undergoes an oxygen malfunction, you’ll need emergency means to survive. This could be facilitated by full-body compression clothing with radiation deflecting properties, and an attached hood with a respirator.

Although these features would not help you survive the Martian environment at large, they could give you enough support for the few minutes it would take to reach safety. Sensors and GPS locators in your clothing could signal to others that there is an air pressure problem in your area, and to prepare accordingly before they send help. Since these biosensitive garments might be your “everyday clothes,” you might even elect to adorn them with icons of your home country, home state or favorite sports team back on Earth.

Human habitation of Mars is not a question of if, but simply a matter of when. Spacesuits and compression clothing made with biosensitive elements will be a part of daily survival in a hostile, extraterrestrial environment.