ASI W9700482r1.0

Moon Miners' Manifesto

#96 June 1996

Section the Artemis Data Book

Spacesuit Aversion

Peter Kokh

"SPACESUIT AVERSION": The quest for alternatives to a user-unfriendly interface

Relevant Readings from Back Issues of MMM

MMM # 5 MAY '87, "M is for Middoors"
MMM # 49 SEP '91, p 4 "Visiting Amphibious Vehicle"
MMM # 53 MAR '92, pp 4-6 "Xity Plans"
MMM # 89 OCT '95, p 6 "Dock-Locks; Buppets"

Bryce Walden, Oregon Moonbase ( writes:

"Sorry I don't have a firm attribution for this. It's a short note I took down while channel-hopping a couple of years ago. The speaker was an astronaut with some experience in a spacesuit, and he listed the "Five Worse Things About A Spacesuit:"

  1. You can't blow your nose.
  2. You can't comb your hair.
  3. You can't read your watch.
  4. You can't eat regular food.
  5. You can't scratch an itch.

I suspect that the first and last complaints will be the most irksome, but also that these are just the handy lightning rods for an overall discomfort with what must be even to the most adept and practiced, an unnatural way to interface with an admittedly hostile environment. For that is just what a spacesuit is, an interface with vacuum, with temperature extremes, and with the slow micrometeorite rain. Against other dangers of the alien environment, like cosmic rays and solar flares, it offers almost no protection at all.

The real point is that existing suits (at least) are not easy to don or doff, are cumbersome to get around in, interfere with free natural motion, and make manipulation difficult and clumsy. Where different pressures and atmospheric mixes are used in the spacesuit than in the habitat or vehicle supporting the sortie, pre-breathing is necessary, adding patiently or impatiently wasted hours before and after the venture in which little useful or satisfying can be accomplished. Spacesuits add to, rather than diminish the degree of difficulty and exertion the called for activity would of itself entail.

Improvements are certainly possible. The constant volume hard suit would eliminate any prebreathing requirement and, if, as we have suggested, entry to and egress from the suit were made from a turtle-shell life-support pack backed into a conformal docking port, the whole air-lock ritual with its wasteful exhausting of precious habitat atmosphere in each cycling, could be engineered out of existence. [cf. MMM # 90, NOV '95, "Dust Control"]. NASA may not feel the need, but frontier pioneers will soon demand such a development.

But why use spacesuits at all?

(1) Vehicles can dock directly with other vehicles and with habitats or other pressurized facilities, allowing "shirt-sleeve" access from anywhere to anywhere else.

(2) At any given settlement or development site, all pressurized facilities will run more efficiently if they are inter-connected via pressurized passageways and streets - save where activity with some risk of cross contamination requires prudent isolation. And such interconnection will create a larger shared mini-biosphere with greater forgiveness and buffering.

If the outpost or settlement is wisely designed, much routine outside activity such as system maintenance, vehicle maintenance, replacing volatile tanks, etc. can be done under the protection of a radiation shielding canopy or ramada. This would allow lighter-weight suits, more comfortable to wear, easier to get around in, and easier to manipulate through - a more user friendly vacuum-work interface.

And for field work? The turtle back suits will disencumber crew vehicles of the more massive airlock apparatus. But personal one-man wheeled or walking vehicles with feedback or virtual-reality-operated manipulators ("buppets" for body puppet, after muppet for mitten puppet), will again allow shirtsleeve comfort and freedom of motion as well as less restrictive personal activity for the occupant/driver/wearer.

The motivation and incentive to develop such replacement hardware will be strongly felt among those engaged in longer tours of duty, and considering "reupping" for duty tour extensions. As the "outpost interface" begins to morph into a "settlement incubator", the demand for such hardware will squelch all bean-counting objections.

Predictably, there will be those few who need to feed their macho "rugged outvacsman" image. Singly, or in small groups, they will put on suits and go outside to do their thing, ride around on lunar Harley hogs, go mountain climbing or whatever. Maybe they will have annual rebel outvac picnics at which they can pretend they are feeding their helmeted faces with roasted ribs and buttered corn on the cob after doing the three-legged race and the raw egg toss. Perhaps they'll promote an amendment to guarantee their right to bear spacesuits.

Seriously, there will be genuine and worthwhile activities providing both adventure and challenge and which do require a spacesuit - like exploring a lavatube complex. Lunar spelunkers are sure to become a proud and exclusive fraternity, luring many a young kid with wanderlust and dreams of becoming a famous discoverer.

And there will be daredevils too, who in spacesuits, may try to walk a tightrope across a rille without a net, or free wheel down a mountain slope (look ma, no brakes) in an effort to see if there is after all some lunar equivalent of a terminal velocity in vacuum, and if so just how high it might be.

For most Lunans, visitors or settlers, wearing a spacesuit will simply not be an acceptable modus vivendi. Any sense of novelty, for kids or newcomers, will quickly wear thin. Face it, the spacesuit, as much as we take it for granted, is a quaint uncomfortable activity restricting contraption doomed to become a Flintsone-like anachronism.

The space suit will always be part of lunar frontier lore. But the stubborn situations which demand its use will be fewer and fewer as time goes by. As a result, it will quickly fade from everyday lunar life. Perhaps every able bodied lunan will still put one on now and then. But the occasion will be the semi-annual depressurization drill, much like our school days fire drills, or lifeboat drills the first day out on some ocean-going or spacefaring cruise ship. MMM

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