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Section 4.3.8.
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Emergency Space Suit Repair

Lou Ramon

The issue of suit repair is a little more involved than "If you need a patch, it's too late to use a patch."

The current Shuttle suit, and all previous space suits and related life support systems, are designed to provide enough emergency oxygen flow to keep the suit at a survivable internal pressure for a certain amount of time with a specified diameter hole in it. The size of the hole and the length of time before brain damage occurs is a function of the size of the puncture and the distance to a safe, pressurized place.

In the case of the current shuttle suit, we have a 20-minute return time under the worst-case conditions. The PLSS (portable life support system) has a emergency high-pressure emergy oxygen tank to provide the flow rate to sustain suit pressure if the suit develops a leak. The Apollo suit had a larger oxygen tank for this purpose as well as an auxiliary tank on each suit and an interconnecting hose system to allow oxygen from one suit to be fed to the other in case of a puncture. We will probably use a similar design for our lunar explorers' space suits.

Once you are safely indoors, you can repair your suit with special adhesives and equipment similar to the way portions of the suit were originally bonded together. Since you will be making the repair on the inside of the suit, internal air pressure will help hold the patch.

If you had a really bad day and the size of the hole in your suit were considerably bigger than something the emergency oxygen system can handle, your alternatives would be less attractive. In that case, you can attempt to seal the suit using something like duct tape after brushing off as much dust and debris as you can. Even pressure from your hand over the leak would help.

Of course, there are always things that can happen for which it just isn't realistic to provide backups. If you lose your helmet, you would do what you could to get back to pressure quickly, but chances are that your loved ones will get know your insurance agent very well.

I do not believe that you would be at any greater risk from punctures of a space suit than you are from failures in your scuba equipment while you're diving. Nothing is completely safe, especially when you're operating in an environment that our bodies did not evolve to work in. In those cases we use our minds which (we hope) did evolve in such a way as to allow us move beyond the limitations imposed by our bodies alone.

Bottom line: Understand the environment, anticipate the potential problems, plan ahead, stay aware of the risks and you shouldn't have to worry too much. Oh, one other thing: If you don't respect Mother Nature, she'll get you - You can bet your life on it.

(Also see the essay on Space Suit Punctures and Decompression.)

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