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Unencumbered Amid an Infinite Expanse~~~
Impenetrable Depths ~~~
Spacesuits are the futuristic pinnacle of various streams of development in the area of human ....................................... ..................................................................................................................................................................................... environmental protection apparel. What sort of developments may ultimately await this technology cannot be readily predicted, but in the present we have a device - in the modern space suit - which is the cumulative hybridization of many previous journeys into the unknown. For several hundred years, people have been making serious and sustained forays into previously never examined areas upon and around the Earth. In some latter instances, where we have had some prior reckoning of what awaited us, we made preparations and devices fit for the endeavour as best we could. The field of 'suits' is one of great practical scientific advance; its necessity exists only only due to an ever persistent drive in our species to reach out into the dangers of the unexplored. Few modern devices so clearly testify to this desire more, or are more interdependent upon it. Without this intrinsic desire to explore restricted areas we would not have this technology and without the technology we would have no ability to do it. Much like people who once relied on sailing to get across the oceans to uncover the new world we take for granted today, explorers who rely on this technology are willing to risk their very lives for that same spirit of discovery. As long as there have been people, there have been some who have intentionally broken away from the pack to take the road less travelled. Very seldom has that tendency failed to yield positive, lasting results for all members of the species. For example, in our quest to explore the waters below the firmament, as early as the 1830s we had already developed the Standard Diving Dress suits that would remain employed up until the rather modern development of SCUBA equipment beginning about 1960. For some 130 years this type of metal and canvas assembly was used for nearly every underwater application that required a human touch. Before the very late 1700s, water was still a completely impenetrable quasi-mystical barrier to the common consciousness. After the development of these 19th century standard suits, underwater work, surveying and exploratory ventures could all be carried out by military, academic or commercial interests. The Siebe company was one of the early innovators in the field of diving suits, started in about 1840, this company still functions in this adventurous industry nearly 200 years later. Until the wide application of independent aqua-lung systems after World War II bulky and cumbersome suits set the standard for the first century of personal environmental shielding simply through the provision of a sealed barrier to the hazards just beyond.
As SCUBA was developing to maturity, another type of environmental suit became a practical necessity; suits for aerial flight (flight suits). Similar in some ways to underwater suits, their utility came mostly in dealing with the opposite environmental phenomena – low pressure - a lack of oxygen and nitrogen rather than over-saturation by them. As man ascended higher into the sky less breathable air met him along the journey. In addition, flight performance improvements eventually also required pressurization to help the human body cope with changes caused by excessive g-forces. Both of these technologies owe their linage to initial work done on underwater suits. Breathing apparatus for aerial and under-water applications grew almost hand in hand from the immediate post-WW2 period up to about the 1980s. From 1917 to 1950, however, the initial development of environmental suits for the unique situations facing pilots were already begun in earnest. An insulated leather suit incorporating many pockets complimented with a helmet and goggles was standard issue on most military pilots until about 1950. As new synthetic materials became available and as engine performance increased dramatically with the onset of the jet-age, these suits evolved. By the end of the 20th century, high altitude flight suits and those employed for some outer space applications (launch and return) showed little difference. Both provided pressurization for high-g, breathing support through SCBA technology, fire-retardation, thermal insulation and basic protections against space radiation.
Reaching the Peak
By about the 1985 most modern environmental suits had essentially reached their zenith. Some improvements with the integration of advanced communications systems has continued, but for the most part all environmental and space suits have existed in their present form since this time. Much of this development happened as a part of a larger zeal for rapid technical gains that seemed to grip our species over the period of 1960-1990. Today, our needs seem to be more oriented around esthetics and streamlining as opposed to the raw development of ways to conquer new environments by any means necessary. In truth much room still exists for improvement on both fronts. That is more the focus of the end part of this essay. Though the suits we have developed previously 'suit' their individual purposes, the various environments as we now understand them, have presented us with a finite range of requirements for all hazardous environments we might tend to enter. The evolution of underwater suits is very relevant to these considerations. Initially, and for the better parts of a century, bulky and cumbersome suits offering a relative minimum of protection were the standard. These might be likened to the current EVA spacesuits employed by astronauts today. Since these have existed in their essence since the 1970s and we are approaching 2020, it appears that the progression of spacesuits will go about double the pace of underwater dress and a much higher pinnacle in space suits (applied to nearly all hazardous environments) could be approaching by 2025. If we think on it; Astronauts already train underwater in space suits. Just as the advances in water suits mainly included a more reliable and less cumbersome environmental system, sleeker designs, reduced weight and improved materials use; space suits should -we might infer- proceed along a very similar path. MIT has begun impressive work on a BioSuit that is designed to interact with the human body in new ways. The BioSuit works similar to some modern shallow-diving suit technology in that it provides close contact with the skin and is primarily concerned with insulation from (now known) exterior variables. These tight fitting suits draw on the automatic systems of the body for some of their performance attributes, such as temperature control. One main difference is that the BioSuit is tailored to move only in areas where human movement is required. The rest of the suit is therefore extremely dense and rigid providing a very tight and innovative fit and function for this new concept. Systems for respiration, heating and electronics are integrated throughout the 'skin' of the BioSuit in a similar way to the circulatory system of a human or animal. At the closing of this paper is contained a proposal for a way in which one such suit should be attainable that can deal with all future operations in nearly any hazardous environments. In theory, if we can refine this technology to its maximum potential, the suit used by a SCUBA diver and an astronaut should be nearly the same. The name of the game has now become the creation of aesthetically pleasing, efficient protection from many environmental variables. We should no longer be concerned with one suit per situation, as is the case now. A suit that effectively insulates against extreme heat or cold, provides oscillating pressurization of environment and bodily fluids based on need, and has a cutting edge communications and data system integrated into it - represents the pinnacle of what a suit (or second skin) can be made to do. Ideally, even this is missing only one additional factor to make it completely developed by modern applicable standards; it must be able to provide assisted locomotion whether it be in space, in the air, or under the water. The inclusion of mechanical enhancements which can increase strength, stamina and speed could also lead to even more wide-spread use of these sorts of systems. This may come to include regular industrial, mining or other work in a variety of hazardous environs including space-based operations.
Eyes on the Horizon
I appreciate that this is an ambitious goal indeed, but we must consider the next entire phase of this sort of technology if we want to appreciate the potential inherent in the evolution of all types of 'space suits'. In my opinion a space suit should be adaptable and suitable for many different kinds of space. Moreover it should be completely digitally integrated with a tablet-esque integrated panel on the forearm, and an integrated display of the type produced by Recon-Instruments in the helmet. Indeed, Recon-Instruments has just been evaluated for systems integration in the next generation of space suits. Still I think we miss something important when we so divide the concept of environmental suits into such narrow and segregated channels.
Let us consider four types of suit presently employed :
1) The Deep Water Suit : Let us focus on the NewtSuit, EXO Suit and other types of the newest ADS currently used by the US Navy to achieve depths of 2000 ft and beyond. While highly specialized submarines have penetrated as far as 35000 feet, a single person in relative comfort, operating and working at a depth of 2000 ft is an incredible milestone dependent on steady advances in materials sciences, design evolution and the spirit of discovery. These suits combine a rigid outer shell with movable joints and an on-board breathing system (SCUBA). Modern suits also usually include on-board locomotive devices as well - a sort of underwater jet-pack. The SCBA on these units is similar to those employed both in SCUBA and other extant environmental suits such as HAZMAT, flight suits, et all. The development of this breathing technology was essential for the development of autonomous suits of all sorts. Aqua-lung and Re-breather technology and the eventual emergence of 'hard suits' is one of the major modern advances after WW2. It has been developed from ever better attempts at atmospheric protection and control stretching back to initial reliable attempts about 150 years ago. The leading pioneers in this field have helped to push our superstitious and mostly habit bound peoples ever farther into the unknown depths of the planet and by extension the whole of the cosmos. Jacques Cousteau was as much responsible for the modern SCBA system as Phil Nuytten has been for its further utility in deeper, stronger and more probing deep-sea devices. We owe visionaries of this type our most sincere thanks and admiration always. As water was the first true 'other world' explored by our species, much of the technology that is used for air, space and other hazard operations is dependent on developments and realizations which began with our early quest to explore the previously forbidden regions of our own lakes and seas.
[[In these images (left to right) : Classical diving dress as it existed for nearly 100 years c.1960, the NewtSuit from Canadian inventor Dr. Phil Nuytten c.1980s, The Exo-Suit c.2010. Major advances include the hard exo-shell, joints, autonomous radio and self contained underwater breathing apparatus.]]
2) G and Wet/Dry Suits : I am putting these two together because they are very similar in consideration and form. Both protect against exposure of the body to harmful forces and are also very form-fitting. While they are not completely sufficient for extremes that may be faced in their domains, they are a good initial example of the sorts of augmentation to our species that can be introduced through innovation. Initially suits for pilots and even shallow divers were generally bulky. Improvements in insulation, breathing apparatus and materials composition have allowed much of the bulk to be stripped away and only the most essential components are now employed. It can be hypothesized that, in the future, even deep-water suits can be down-sized with further advances in composite materials. Each diver may require a custom suit for these sort of advances in future hard-suits, but this is also the case with form fitting dry-suits for the most part in the present too. The advent of the BioSuit and its new methods of accommodating lines of non-extension could potentially allow for hardened surface materials to be integrated in to flexible form-fitting suits in the future. These suits would be well adapted to extreme pressurization in both negative and positive quantities. Hard plated suits with sophisticated skin-tight insular layers and adequate helmet systems could theoretically take a person from ocean depths to the moon – or at least act as a safety device at all stops along the way.
[[In these images (left to right) : Standard 'wet suit' assembly c.1980, Dry Suit c.2000, Standard G-Suit c. 2000. Both the wet and dry suits represent great advances over the Standard Diving Dress – they are less bulky, autonomous and in the case of the dry suit; provide thermal protection. The G-Suit is similar, but is designed to deal with completely different environmental variables.]]
3) Chemical Operations and Hazard Suits : Though there are varying styles and levels of protection, a quick review of the most protective (Level 1/A) reveals that this technology is very close to SCUBA (SCBA). Level 1 Hazard suits must contain a segregated (in suit) SCBA device. These suits are completely sealed from the environment and usually run at a positive pressure to the surrounding area so that in the event of any breach in the surface the pressure will blow matter away instead of committing the intake of any type of hazardous chemical or biological matter. These suits may also be metalicized or otherwise treated to enhance protection against radiation as well. Though no such suits can presently protect against extreme sources of direct radiation they are most effective at preventing the uptake of isotopes or other harmful chemicals that are usually radiated in such instances and can have severe consequences if ingested by the body.
[[In these images (left to right) : WW1 Gas Masks c.1915, WW2 Gas Gear c1945, Modern HAZMAT Suits c.2010. The early versions of this technology were little more than rags to filter particles from causing severe, immediate, direct damage to the lungs and respiratory system. By the second world war small advances had been made, but with the onset of the Aqua-Lung this type of suit quickly became much more resilient. The new suits have also evolved to include much larger optical portals, these are much better suited to the further advance of HUD integration.]]
4) Power Integrated Cybernetic Suits : A new breed of suits is emerging from the field of robotics. Though these are not internally-cybernetic (as we might initially think), they are exo-skeletal, powered, and augment the attributes of the user. These types of devices have already been begun by Lockheed Martin among others for use in military applications. One system, HULC, is being tendered by the US Army forces. It boasts the ability to reduce user fatigue, enhance basic strength and increase speed. These introductory technologies are a good indication of the potential in this proposed application of a unified suit design integrating all the latest of various types of technology. Further to the HULC, Japanese scientists have invented a rehabilitative suit which incorporates this type of technology around an entire human body. Though, this is again very early phase, there is no reason not to think that within 25-50 years these technologies will likely be the standard in hazardous field operations technology. We will look into further integration of all these types of technology in the final section.
THE BIG DEAL
Hopefully this composition has thus far provided a good general history of environmental suits up to the present time. Some effort was also made to examine or project that technology slightly into the future, for example the notion that HULC systems, MIT Bio-Suit designs or Recon-Instruments may become much more commonplace among the armed forces in the short-term (5-10 years). As exciting and interesting as this history and these developments may be, it was all to bring us to this place; The place at the end here where we consider the median-term (10-20 years) potential for these devices as they relate to cross-environmental integration, outer space applications and more. The reduction in bulk is one of the most visible of changes to occur with suits of most types with the present exception of space suits, though hopefully that will be changing soon. Water and air based suits for normal operations have shrunk as they have increased in utility considerably in the last few decades. We tend to see this in all facets of our manufactured advanced technologies now; TV's are slimmer, cars are being designed for greater economy, powerful computers are now only small tablets. In like manner the Standard Diving Dress has been replaced by SCUBA wet and dry suits. Heavy leather suits that were the standard for pilots are now much reduced in size and overall bulk while still retaining insulation properties and having superior protection from fire and many other additional features not included on earlier suits. In these systems we should also take some note of the integration of radio technology. In all types of suits herein examined, radio technology is now an integral part. Beyond this, most suits also incorporate some sort of note taking or data gathering technology based on writing. Technology now exists which could cause another great leap in this technology; a unified environmental protection system (UEPS) for the 21st century...
The UEPS I propose, like other game-changing technology, would incorporate elements from previous versions and types of similar suits and also add pivotal and practical new technologies. Let us consider that previous versions of diving suits have relied mostly on man-power to get around. New heavy-suits incorporate some turbine technology to enable autonomous controlled locomotion. Martin Jet-packs is a company from around down under that has developed a wearable turbine kit that can propel a man through the air. At present this jet-pack technology is bulky, but it is also early in its development, just as the Standard Diving Dress of old it has tremendous potential. If it can propel a man through the air it could reasonably do so in water also - even if some slight modification is required. So we see that we are at a time where the locomotion technology exists for one device to propel a man in a suit through the water or the air or from one to the other and vice-versa. Once these last few technologies are in place (or even prototyping at present with existing configurations) humanity will truly have mastered this area of investigation. No longer would atmospheric density pose any threat to human explorers of the planets. Well, Earth, at least. Because of the practicality of mass producing one such suit for a variety of applications, it can be assumed the laws of supply and demand might even make this sort of unit affordable for those who might travel to exotic destinations (like the arctic for example) but who are not million-dollar organizations. The vision for a UEPS as presented in this article can be summarized thusly; a suit drawing on the various disciplines of current environmental suit technologies, including a means for multi-atmospheric locomotion and also a complete array of advanced digital and exo-skeletal enhancements. These digital components would include various optical and auditory sensors, a data drive for storage and processing of recordings. An operating system integrated to the components. A heads-up-display of the type from Recon-Instruments. Digital integration of all valves, canisters, environmental data, etc, and the inclusion of a tablet type device hard wired to the suits internal digital systems that can be used for graphic-user-interface applications relevant to the operation and data collection requirements of the suit.
To summarize, personal environmental protection has been developed rather lately in the course of human affairs, but it has advanced rapidly over the last hundred years. In the coming century we can reasonably predict a sort of pinnacle for this stream of technology. A suit which at once allows a person comfortable access to the sea, skies and stars is truly within our scope of vision. Integrated circuitry and digital technology have come to a place where they are making new levels of versatility possible. Combined with other technology that can augment human performance and strength, the possibilities are nearly limitless. A suit as proposed herein (as modelled upon the general idea of the BioSuit, for example) and its further development, to a point where such a form-fitting suit can have the strength of an ADS, means it could become the standard issue -for safety at least- on all marine vessels or submarine units as well for as aeroplanes, spacecraft and for other exploratory or dangerous missions.
Now if only someone would hire me to make a comprehensive technical design of the bugger.
**for full list of sources and to view images please see the original post here: dennizai.blogspot.ca/2012/02/emerging-ueps-unified-environmental.html
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