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ESA commissions super spacesuit

PCB, LCD, ECG, GPS and machine washable

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The European Space Agency (ESA) today launched a project which it hopes will generate ideas for the next generation of spacesuits. The ultimate goal is to develop a suit that will allow a human being to explore the surface of Mars, while providing real-time monitoring of vital signs and location.

The second StarTiger project (Space Technology Advancements by Resourceful, Targeted and Innovative Groups of Experts and Researchers) will be run in Finland at the Tampere University of Technology (TUT). TUT was selected becuase of its many years of research experience in designing so-called "Smart" clothes.

The StarTiger2 suit, known as the STAR-suit, will feature a whole range of technologies and functions. As well as all the sensor and commumication technologies it will need to take physiological measurements, the suit is likely to feature flexible printed circuit boards and liquid crystal display materials; as well as advance fabrics and embedded electronics.

The ESA explains that the suit will address one of the biggest needs on a space misison: the safety of the astronaut. Space is an extraordinarily harsh environment, and its effects are not wholly understood. Health checks are possible before and after flights, but nothing has yet been able to provide continuous monitoring.

"The final objective is to know in real-time and continuously the physiological status of the person being monitored without hindering what he or she has to do," explains Eike Kircher, head of ESA's Basic Technology Research Programme.

The bare minimum features list is for the suit to be capable of heart and respiratory rate monitoring, and motion and temperature sensoring. Additional items such as a vascular index and electrocardiogram - as well as a global positioning system - are also being planned. All user interfaces and communication systems will be integrated in the clothing, which, as a final practical consideration, must also be washable.

Although the long-term goal may be Mars, STAR-suit's first outing is likely to be to Antarctica's Concordia Science Station. ®

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