Fighting For | November 11, 2020
In May 2020, the world crowded around screens to watch the SpaceX demo flight of the Crew Dragon to the International Space Station. For a brief moment, the awe and wonder, the possibility and potential, was reminiscent of the Apollo missions and the first live coverage of splashdown more than 50 years ago. With the launch of the United States Space Force and NASA’s planned Artemis missions to the Moon, our nation may be reigniting its curiosity with what’s beyond. But years of slowed activity has its disadvantages, one of which includes outdated equipment and the spacesuits that keep astronauts safe.
Notre Dame physics professor Jay LaVerne is working with a multi-university team to design the next generation of materials allowing astronauts to safely explore deeper in space. The project is led by Thomas Orlando, a chemistry professor at Georgia Tech, and also includes Stephen Robinson, a former astronaut and now a professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at the University of California, Davis. The project is part of the Radiation Effects on Volatiles and Exploration of Asteroids and Surfaces Center of the NASA Solar System Exploration Research Virtual Institute (SSERVI).
The three universities are working together on a multi-part project, LaVerne explains. First, it’s designing new polymers to create lighter, less cumbersome and more radiation-resistant space suits. Second, it’s creating monitors that can attach to the spacesuit and notify astronauts of temperature, radiation and oxygen levels — much like the mounted helmet cueing systems fighter pilots wear.
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