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Q&A With Dava

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Dava Newman will answer your questions even if you’re not wearing a spacesuit!

Q: James Collins

What is the biggest reaction you get from people about your suit? Are there any plans to make it bionic helping the Astronaut in gaining strength when they need the extra help.

A: Dava

Dear James,Thank you for your question. Most people’s initial reaction is typically, “that doesn’t look like a spacesuit”, or often, “that’s a spacesuit? Cool!” It’s a great question and it’s important to me as an engineer and designer that I’m providing a concept and suit that people find unconventional and something new, perhaps that they hadn’t thought possibly previously. Yes, we are currently performing research for enhanced mobility and locomotion. The focus of our current work is to design assistive devices within the suit in the legs, utilizing our novel pattern, to try to assist people on earth with walking. It is my 10-year dream to be able to have an actuated suit capability to assist children with cerebral palsy to walk. Finally, we have another suit design called the Gravity Loading Suit that we envision as using as an astronaut exercise suit (inside the vehicle for intravehicular activities, IVA) as a countermeasure to physiological deconditioning.
Best regards,


Is this an environmental suit only? … what protection are you using for radiation, and/or micrometeorites?
BTW your very inspirational for woman, and in general.

A: Dava

Dear DB,
Thank you for your question. The BioSuit™ design focuses on pressure production (to 30 KPa, or 1/3 atm) primarily, which is where our real innovation comes through. Radiation and micrometeorite protection are also extremely critical. We have a few concepts, but nothing that I’d call breakthrough at this point. Minimum radiation protection will likely be implemented in to the suit itself, due to the mass penalty. Novel concepts for radiation (advanced materials and perhaps medication) are on the horizon, and will likely be implemented in to habitats, rovers and emergency shelters. Micrometeorite protection for the BioSuit™ might be best handled by putting on a separate outer layer, which would be solely for that purpose. There’s always more work to due, and for us, especially when it comes to radiation and micrometeorite protection.
Best regards,

Q: Capt. Suz Wallace

LOVE it. How have you found the characteristics of being a sailor help you in your career and outlook on life?
ps. my daughter wants to go into aerospace engineering and already has a degree in animation, where should she begin the transfer~

A: Dava

Dear Capt. Wallace,
Thank you for your comments. I was actually an aerospace engineer before I was a sailor, so for me it might be that my aerospace know-how informed my sailing. For Gui, he was definitely a sailor first, as a child, and I do believe that it inspired some of his space design work. Things have a way of going full-circle, as an architect and designer, he is now using his aerospace design expertise to inform the interior design for a mini-racing boat. For both of us, space exploration and sailing are the best ways we know of to explore and reflect on both outer and inner space. The similarities for us are living and performing in isolated, confined, harsh environments.

Please DO encourage your daughter to pursue aerospace engineering. We need ALL of the bright minds we can get to help solve society’s technical challenges. Her animation background will serve her very well for design-related courses in engineering and also in computers and computation, which is required for MIT aerospace engineers. There are numerous aerospace eng. depts. (~30) that she might want to look in to. For example, MIT, CalTech, the Big Ten/Twelve schools (Michigan, Purdue, Illinois, etc.), Georgia Tech, Univ. of Washington. There are also great options for more general engineering at liberal arts universities, if she’s more comfortable in that environment (Princeton, Cornell, etc.). I went to Notre Dame. Most importantly, I’d just encourage her to purse an engineering degree.
Fair winds,

Q: Julia

How did a Montana girl get fromt the Big Sky to Notre Dame and MIT?

A: Dava

Dear Julia,
Thanks for your question. My heart is still in the West, and things have a way of going full-circle. I have a new NASA project with ExplorationWorks in Helena, MT. ExWorks is a children’s science museum and I’ll be working with them for the next four years to develop space exploration exhibits and curriculum. We’re also targeting STEM outreach to rural and native American kids. Early on, I was inspired by Apollo and growing up in the mountains in Montana. I had no idea there were so many corn fields in the mid-west when I landed in Notre Dame when I was 17. Well, it was a good place to study and I played basketball for my first two years. Then I started coaching an inner city high girls basketball team, which taught me so many lessons. I moved to the East Coast, missing the West, but for the chance to study at MIT and pursue my PhD, and my dream of becoming a university professor. It all worked out well, and I’m grateful. By the way, Utah is my absolutely favorite state for skiing!

Q: Bruce Webbon

Who’s your favorite crabby curmudgeon?

A: Dava

Dear Bruce,
It’s great to hear from you! You, of course. With some big dreams inspired by Apollo and some great teachers and mentors along the way, all is possible. Thanks for all of your support.


Q: Katie Carson

Subject: science in school
When I read your post, I liked the part you said about the lack of role models for girls in science. I’m twelve now, at I feel that all of a sudden, girls, who loved science before, seem to be falling behind. But I’m in this cool program called I.B (international bachelorette) where we learn above grade level in every subject, especially science. We don’t even have any male science teachers!

A: Dava

Dear Katie,
I loved learning about your IB education, female science teachers and the passion for science, engineering and math that I can sense in your email. Be true to your dreams and please DO pursue your interests in math, science and engineering. We need you, the US needs you and the world. A little encouragement to your girl friends to keep pursuing the STEM (science, technology, engineering an math) fields can go a long way. I look forward to seeing you at MIT in a few years.

Q: victoria.nelson

Subject: Suit and Glove Pressures

First, since this suit is actually like a second skin, how is it able to produce or maintain pressure in space? Space suites keep us at at least ~8 psi in zero pressure, even though earth is at 14.7 psi. Does this suit do that? Second, if this suit does maintain pressure, have you solved the glove problem with this suit. In space, if the suit goes above 8 psi, the gloves do not function well; i.e. the astronauts cannot bend their fingers. Do you still have that problem with this suit?

A: Dava

Dear Victoria,
Thanks for your great questions. The pressure is produced via ‘mechanical counter-pressure’ (MCP for short). The material and the design patterning of the BioSui™ are actually squeezing the skin (uniformally and with constant pressure) at about a third of an atm. (1/3 atm = 30 kPa = 4.3 psi), which is the same pressure as the current NASA gas-pressurized spacesuit, the EMU (extravehicular mobility unit), provides to astronauts. There are a few advanced R&D; suit designs to provide 8 psi pressure, but we haven’t flown any in space yet. The advantage of an 8 psi design is that it allows you to go directly from the Space Station (at 14. Psi = 1 atm) directly to the suit and perform your work. We call this a zero pre-breathe suit. Currently, astronauts have to pre-preathe pure oxygen for about 4 hours to wash all the inert gases out of their bloodstream, then they can go from the Space Station to the EMU and then perform EVA outside the Station. This ‘down time’ is very costly and we’d like to avoid it for future space missions requiring much more EVA. Designing a flexible glove is a big engineering challenge. We work on it a bit, but colleagues at UCSD and Dr. Paul Webb have made the most progress in MCP gloves. You can also find great work going on at the Univ. of Maryland’s Space Systems Lab. NASA has had some Challenges for glove design recently and Peter Homer has won the competition. ILC Dover is the company who makes the current EMU glove, and they have a lot of great expertise and engineering know-how when it comes to suits and gloves. This is a great research area. I hope that one day you might want to study it and come up with some engineering solutions?

Q: Alexandra Pritchard

How does your research and work on the biosuit help protect astronauts bones and muscles? (We are studying the human body in my third grade science class, and I am doing my project astronauts.
I am your biGGEST fan. I’m 8 and got to wiley elementary in the 3rd grade

A: Dava

Dear Alexandra,

Thank you for your great question and I hope that your astronaut project is excellent. I imagine it will be. We also study musculoskeletal (bones and muscles) deconditioning. Did you know that astronauts typically lose about 30% muscle atrophy, up to 40% muscle strength loss, and 1-2% bone mineral density loss (per month) during long-duration missions (i.e., International Space Station). There are some promising exercise countermeasures, and we also study artificial gravity in our lab at MIT. We think of artificial gravity as being the ‘ultimate countermeasure’ for a human mission to Mars (i.e., ~ 4 years in total). We have developed a new concept, called the Gravity Loading Suit, which is a tight fitting suit that astronauts could wear inside the space vehicle and essentially they would exercise against the suit. The suit provides graded pressure from the shoulders down to the feet, and attains a 1 body weight (or 1 G) loading at the feet. You can find some great online information for your school work here up your enthusiasm.
We’re counting on you to be ready to be an astronaut for a Mars mission.


Q: Lance Newman

Subject: Secrets
I heard you played basketball at Notre Dame and are an accomplished snow skier as well, however are limited in your ability to golf and fly fish, please comment on the ying and yang here. Thank you for your time and I do like your Bio. as ever Lance

A: Dava

Dear Lance,

It’s great to hear from you. Yes, I definitely more time and practice with the fishing and golf clubs! I have to say the Winter Olympians are sure inspiring when it comes to skiing, skating, etc.
Warmest regards,

Q: Pete

Dava –when you used extra virgin olive oil in the hydralic copper tubes for your steering mechanism was there a problem after you had it drained and replenished with real hydralic fluid .The consistency of olive oil agnst copper tubing would leave a more slippery level of non hydralic fluid in the copper tubes having a effect on the flow of hydralic fluid ???<

A: Dava

Dear Pete,

Thank goodness, no we didn’t see any negative effects. We used the extra virgin olive oil for about 1 week of sailing. Then when we arrived to the Marquesas we actually replaced all the copper tubing (2 x 6 m) and filled them with proper hydraulic fluid to complete the rest of our circumnavigation.

Q: Jackenson Durand

– Do you use a few elements positive in the periodic table to build the suit? If yes,
– What are their names?
– Does the suit would be resistible on a high degree temperature and ultraviolet; if so, what would be the highest?
– Does the suit would be able to automatically warm on the body surface, if we would find on Mars?

A: Dava

Dear Jackenson,

I’ve commented a bit more on the design and the materials of the BioSuit™ in the previous responses to the other questions. We do envision using ‘smart’ materials, especially nitinol (nickel titanium) as smart zippers to provide a bit more pressure (compression) in addition to the polymer elastic materials that we are currently using. Thermal control is a significant design challenge for EVA suits. We have a few concepts and solutions. We envision putting in electric heating wires directly in the materials of the suit. We’ve tested this design and can provide thermal comfort and automatic heating, but only to a level of ~ +/- 20 degrees C). When it comes to the extreme temperature changes in space (+/- 200 degrees C) then you’d need another layer to keep warm (i.e., much like dressing for the extremes in the Antarctic/Arctic, but even to a greater extent).

Q: Daniel Boggs

Where were you when you thought of the design of the new space suit? BY THE WAY KEEP UP THE GOOD WORK, LIKE THE DESIGN!!!

A: Dava

Dear Daniel,

The initial ideas for the BioSuit™ were thought of while I was working at MIT, and perhaps some of the more creative concepts while jogging around the Charles River. The advanced design concepts for our Phase II study were thought of while brainstorming and having time to think during our sailing circumnavigation. Some great ideas popped in to our minds while crossing the Pacific and Indian Oceans.
Thanks for your question and comments,

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Tom Miller

    Tom Miller is the producer of “Secret Life” and co-editor of the site’s blog. His job involves interviewing scientists and engineers, getting them to tell their amazing stories and occasionally trying to get them to sing. It’s a fantastic gig and Tom is extremely grateful for it.