FIT well suited to help get space tourism off the ground

In late February Elon Musk announced the first joy ride into space is set to occur next year. The founder and CEO of SpaceX plans to use one of his rockets to transport two paying customers around the moon in 2018. The individuals will be launched from historic Launch Pad 39 at the Kennedy Space Center on a Dragon 2 vehicle powered by SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket.

The two private citizens who will make the flight, “who have not yet been named, approached SpaceX about taking a trip around the moon, and have ‘already paid a significant deposit’ for the cost of the mission,” according to space.com. “The names of the two individuals will be announced later, pending the result of initial health tests to ensure their fitness for the mission.”

“Like the Apollo astronauts before them, these individuals will travel into space carrying the hopes and dreams of all humankind, driven by the universal human spirit of exploration,” SpaceX representatives said in the statement.

When space tourism shifts into high gear, research from Florida Institute of Technology is expected to play a critical role. Last year the School of Human-Centered Design, Innovation and Art received a grant from the Federal Aviation Administration to develop standards for keeping passengers and crew safe from the ground to zero G.

FIT scientists and technicians are testing the spacesuit passengers will wear and developing a universal cockpit/flight deck especially for space tourism as well as working with the FAA on designing safety rules for commercial tourism spacecraft.

In the spring of 2016 the School of Human-Centered Design purchased a functional spacesuit for $28,000 from Final Frontier Designs of Brooklyn, N.Y., for use in developing a universal cockpit specifically for space tourism. Florida Tech is one of just three universities nationwide that are testing the functionality of a spacesuit that pilots and passengers will wear when they blast off for the moon and make the journey back to earth.

“The suit provides pilots and spaceflight participants with another level of safety and we believe it may be as common in future space tourism as gloves and helmets are for motorcycle road trips,” said Ondrej Doule, an assistant professor at the School. “What we learn in space about artificially built environments can be then applied on earth for enhancement of sustainable development.”

Both a machine and a garment, the suit shields space travelers from the inhospitable conditions of space. It also demonstrate how science and art can go together – just ask the seemingly mismatched pair of Ted Southern and Nikolay Moiseev, who partnered in 2010 to design and develop apparel for space missions, launching the Brooklyn-based startup Final Frontier Design.

Boasting two decades of experience as a mechanical engineer at Russia’s national space suit supplier, Moiseev is responsible for spacesuit designs that have protected cosmonauts in deep space since 1988. An American fine artist with an MFA in sculpture, Southern has a dozen years of materials and fabrication experience for the special effects and costuming industries in New York City.

They first met at NASA’s Astronaut Glove Challenge in 2007. The pair lost that competition, but teamed up to win the next one in 2009. It earned them a $100,000 grant as well as garnering serious attention from NASA. They used their windfall to further develop a five-finger glove that outperformed NASA’s own technology at the time. Another slice of their winnings launched Final Frontier Design where Southern is the president and designer.

Final Frontier Design’s next-generation spacesuit consists of three layers: an undergarment, a body hugging pressure garment and an outer shell constructed of Nomex, a protective flame-resistant fabric.

The Final Frontier team has “been very responsive and flexible, it’s been a smooth working relationship,” said Doule, a native of East Bohemia in the Czech Republic, who arrived at FIT five years ago.

The garment Doule and his team are working on is called an intra-vehicular activity, or IVA, suit that would be worn inside the space vehicle during mission-critical events such as launch, reentry and landing. The IVA suit provides a contained head-to-toe pressurized environment that protects the body from any loss of cabin pressure. The biggest concerns are air flow and overheating, according to Doule.

“The suit is quite soft, flexible and endurable as well as being roughly 60 percent lighter than suits NASA used in the past,” explained Doule, whose transportation of choice around Melbourne is a Fazer 300 Yamaha motorcycle. “It can be put on in 10 to 15 minutes. It’s also adjustable and can be worn more than once and by more than one person.”

Doule is also developing an Adaptive Spaceship Cockpit Simulator that will help astronauts make the most of their time in space and improve efficiency and safety during human spaceflight missions.

“For any area of spaceship flight deck research, design or engineering, the understanding of one’s dexterity, perception and work constraints imposed by a spacesuit are extremely important,” Doule noted.

“It’s all about which input and display system is most efficient in the complex environment of human spaceflight that is affecting the body and perception even as gravity changes. Is it a joystick, a mouse, a track ball? Which communication system is fastest and safest while wearing gloves and a helmet, dealing with the motion in a cockpit?

“Understanding what will work best as an astronaut interacts with the spaceship systems in any possible scenario could shape our success with future space exploration, commercial missions and suborbital space tourism,” Doule said.

Three weeks ago, Musk told reporters the 2018 trip to the moon and back will traverse more than 300,000 miles and take about a week.

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