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I remember several years ago seeing a pressure suit design based on carefully engineered elastic material in contact with the skin. Instead of pressure on the skin produced by a pressurized gas, the pressure (force per unit area) was generated by the material itself. For obvious reasons a conventional gas-filled helmet was still required.

I'm not necessarily asking if the idea is good or bad. The effort appeared quite serious and I believe it was being done either within NASA or in conjunction with NASA. But I don't recall what it was called or other details.

I think the technical challenges included how to criss-cross elastic layers to keep pressure above minimum as the astronaut's body moved into its full vocabulary of configurations (e.g. moved around).

I'd like to know the name of the project, and if it has advanced since several years ago, and in particular if it is still active and is still thought to have a chance of working.

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    $\begingroup$ The MIT professor working on this got a short-lived job in the NASA top bureacracry, that's about the time we stopped hearing about it much. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dava_Newman $\endgroup$ – Organic Marble May 31 '18 at 10:59
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    $\begingroup$ @OrganicMarble yes this is it! Now I remember, that's exactly who I'd seen talking about this concept and demonstrating it. YouTubes: 1, 2, 3, 4 $\endgroup$ – uhoh May 31 '18 at 12:28
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I think what you're looking for is the Space Activity Suit.

It looks like the concept never really went away, and that such a suit is still in active development. I recall that one of the issues of suit design was in pinching in certain areas (armpits, groin), and that they mitigated this with foam padding out those areas.

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above left: From here. right: "A fascinating contract in space suit design, the MIT Bio Suit was displayed next to the Mars Mark III planetary hard suit. Unlike the more traditional Mark III, the Bio Suit is skin tight offering great flexibility, comfort and mobility to future explorers." Cropped from here.

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  • $\begingroup$ Yes indeed, this is what I was remembering. Thank you! $\endgroup$ – uhoh May 31 '18 at 5:09
  • $\begingroup$ To put on or off such a suit could be difficult. Pressure on all parts of the human body should be equal, without the suit, during the process of suiting and within the complete suit. But wearing the suit without a pressurized helmet will squeeze liquids into the head and impair breathing, both may be dangerous for the human body. There should be a method of keeping pressure to the body and the head equal during the whole process of dressing or undressing the suit. The required operating pressure inside the suit of about 0.4 bar is far too big to be applied only partialy. $\endgroup$ – Uwe Jun 1 '18 at 16:22
  • $\begingroup$ I think the space activity suit should be combined with existing pressurized suits, for example make the arms and legs SAS and the torso and head pressurized. The technology which would be a breakthrough for SAS style suits would be a fiber material which can be electrically stimulated into expanding so you'd put on the suit and then it would tighten up. Also IIRC, there's big difficulties getting compression style gloves to work. $\endgroup$ – Dragongeek Jun 6 '18 at 10:58
  • $\begingroup$ Combining the space activity suit with existing pressurized suits, for example make the arms and legs SAS and the torso and head pressurized would require airtight sealings at arms and legs near the shoulders and hips. But these sealings should not reduce blood flow to the arms and legs. $\endgroup$ – Uwe Jun 19 '18 at 20:16

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