Gloves on space suits are hard to use because of their high gas pressure relative to the surrounding vacuum. It's simply strenuous to bend the fingers and astronauts are even said to lose their nails after having worked with them. This is not good enough for spending a year on Mars or Phobos with daily EVA's. Currently, the research and development seems focused on bringing many different technologies together, like "smart" textiles, aerogels, moisture control strategy, dust tolerant lightweight bearings and low torque finger and thumb joint designs" and even casting the hands of the individual astronauts for custom made designs.

Is there a smarter way to bypass all that cumbersome and questionable work? Tools like shovels and drills could maybe be hooked onto the suit and used without need to bend any finger. A glove box, much smaller than the stationary one imaged below, could maybe be strapped around the glove when teleoperation with a joystick or a cyber glove is needed. If such a box (why not make it an inflatable "glove bag") has the same pressure as the suit, there would be no resistance due to pressure differences. An exoskeleton, maybe inside of the glove, could add motion power to light finger movements.

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  • $\begingroup$ I think you're describing some sort of pressurised outer "mitten". It would work in theory but I doubt it would be reliable or practical. The tools in use would be grasped by the hand and would have to poke through a sealed hole in the bag. The bag would need two seals, one for the (probably flexible) glove and another for the exposed part of the tool. Apollo had lots of crew comments about the difficulty of sealing things. $\endgroup$
    – Andy
    Commented Aug 26, 2015 at 11:10
  • $\begingroup$ Also, you couldn't use the flexibility of the fingers to handle samples, without bringing them into the bag and contaminating them. $\endgroup$
    – Andy
    Commented Aug 26, 2015 at 11:10
  • $\begingroup$ @Andy I'd appreciate some links to astronauts' comments about difficulties sealing things. That sounds like a very serious problem which I have missed thus far. I suppose that if one puts a rock in a bag in vacuum, then bring it into a pressurized habitable module, that the bag will squeeze the rock and maybe get cut by sharp edges. A sample might be better handled if it is put inside such a pressurized glove bag I suggest, so that a thin glove could feel it. And we've got two hands, maybe two different interfaces for them is optimal. $\endgroup$
    – LocalFluff
    Commented Aug 26, 2015 at 11:59
  • $\begingroup$ Seals are griped about a few times in the Apollo Lunar Surface Journal - on some flights they had to clean dust in suit zips between EVAs for example. Moon dust seems very aggressive. I just found this too which has a lot of quotes (though not just about seals and dust): hq.nasa.gov/alsj/TM-2005-213610.pdf . $\endgroup$
    – Andy
    Commented Aug 26, 2015 at 12:30
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    $\begingroup$ Incidentally - Jones set up the ALSJ interviews in the '90s or so, partly to make sure the astronauts' tales about these everyday matters wasn't lost. It's old now, but there might be other material on that site, in addition to the transcripts themselves... $\endgroup$
    – Andy
    Commented Aug 26, 2015 at 12:34

1 Answer 1


Pressurized gloves are doomed to be bulky and restrictive since any hand movement which results in a volume change will be opposed by the glove's internal pressure. You ask "Is there a smarter way to bypass all that cumbersome and questionable work?" Answer: Yes. Ditch the pressurized glove for purpose-designed end effectors. This approach has revolutionized endoscopic surgery. Surgical end effectors don't look anything like hands since they were designed to perform a specific task rather than fit a monkey's paw.


The astronaut's hands can remain inside a constant-volume pressurized volume with controls and haptic feedback which make maximum use of the hands' abilities. Rapid switching between end effectors (or the effector's settings) would be possible.

End effector designs would not share the movement limitations of hands. For instance, the wrist can only rotate 120* so screwing parts together involves grasp/turn/release/turn back/regrasp etc rather than grasp and turn.

Pressurized gloves also limit tactile sensation. Purpose designed end effectors with haptic feedback could enhance tactile sensation. For instance, colors could be "felt" to aid in identifying parts.

The next logical step is to leave the astronauts inside the spacecraft rather than the time consuming and hazardous donning of a spacesuit. This is basically what is done with the Canadarm on the ISS


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