Thursday, August 13, 2009

Taking space in stride

Above: A video of Apollo 16 commander John Young attempting to retrieve a dropped hammer on the moon. Credit: NASA/Ken Glover, ALSJ.

New analysis could lead to better lunar, Mars spacesuits

David L. Chandler
MIT News Office

Anyone who has watched videos of the Apollo astronauts moving across the surface of the moon has noticed the unusual loping gait they sometimes adopted and their slow, almost graceful, movements. Now a new analysis by MIT researchers shows why astronauts moved around this way in their heavy Apollo-era space suits - and provides a mathematical method for evaluating new spacesuit designs for the moon and Mars and their effects on the efficiency of locomotion.

The loping gait of the lunar explorers was similar to a child's skipping, except that instead of switching back and forth on each stride between having the left or right foot in front, the same foot stayed forward the whole time, explains Christopher Carr, a research scientist in the Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences. Carr is the lead author of a paper on the research appearing Aug. 12 in the online journal Public Library of Science One.

That way of moving, Carr says, "means they don't have to move as much" within the stiff pressurized suits. "They do whatever seems most efficient."

Trying to get around while inside the pressurized suits was "like being inside a balloon," Carr says. "When you bend it, it wants to spring back." When running or loping, that tendency can actually improve efficiency, acting like a spring that stores energy on each stride and then adds a little push on the next. "It can actually be a benefit," he says.

Read the full article HERE.

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