Designing the 'end effectors' or gloves of a spacesuit is notoriously difficult. Hands have are extremely flexible and are the primary interface that humans use to interact physically with the world.

Current EVA suits use gas pressurized gloves with are not very easy to use, very thick, and impractical. Astronauts frequently comment on how hard it is to use these gloves and the strain it places on the hands. In development are mechanical counter-pressure gloves but these currently only score marginally better than traditional gloves, need to be tailored per person, and take a long time to don and doff.

Hard-shell deep sea diving suits frequently don't use gloves but rather have the hands in a pressurized compartment where the user actuates a mechanically linked claw which is outside of the pressurized compartment.


  • Has NASA or other space agency ever used/investigated such a design for their EVA suit gloves?
  • Is there any research or development on more complex end effectors (Instead of just a claw; maybe semi-articulated fingers?)

Deep sea diving suit

  • $\begingroup$ Hard-shell deep sea diving suits with a pressure difference from outside to inside of several bars could not use gloves. It would be impossible to move the fingers, blood circulation in the hands would be reduced to zero. $\endgroup$
    – Uwe
    Jun 9, 2019 at 19:10
  • $\begingroup$ @Uwe I know the use cases are different, I'm wondering whether space suit designers should use articulated mechanical hands instead of gloves to overcome the difficulty astronauts have with them $\endgroup$
    – Dragongeek
    Jun 9, 2019 at 20:46
  • $\begingroup$ But a hard-shell deep sea diving suit with gloves does not make sense. It could not be used for deep diving and for very shallow dives the hard shell is not necessary, too heavy and too expensive. So just remove the word "frequently". $\endgroup$
    – Uwe
    Jun 9, 2019 at 21:07
  • $\begingroup$ Moving away from pressure suits and toward hard suits (which don't need to be suit shaped) have other benefits as well. Can enter and use a hard suit much faster than a pressure suit. No depress/repress issues. Can be one size fits all. Can use end effectors that function better than tools in pressure gloves. NASA seems to be heavily aligned against hard suits $\endgroup$
    – Freddo411
    Jan 16, 2022 at 16:00

2 Answers 2


Noted science fiction author Wernher von Braun suggested "tentacle gloves" in a book he wrote in 1960. So some NASA people were at least thinking about it.

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"Bottle suits" or "pods" typically use robotic arms with some kind of mechanical end effector, here's a semi-recent example:


There has been extensive research on non-biological end effectors. There is an entire industry built around their utility to perform complex, critical jobs.

I’m referring to endoscopic surgical instruments. The range of complex procedures done endoscopically is astounding. None of the end effectors look like little hands. Instead, there is a wide range of effectors optimized for the specified job.

Most EVA work is performed by tools. The tools are designed to be hand-held because … well, they are going to be held by hands. Or, more precisely, they are made to be held by pressurized gloves which are operated by hands.

Hands are incredibly dexterous, but a pressurized glove is a very limiting interface. For instance, none of that remarkable endoscopic surgery could be performed if the surgeon had to wear pressurized gloves while attempting it.

“Spacesuit gloves have become the limiting element of an astronaut's work performance outside a spacecraft because hand muscles become extremely fatigued during prolonged work in a pressurized glove.”https://airandspace.si.edu/exhibitions/outside-the-spacecraft/online/walking.cfm

Look to endoscopic instruments for inspiration. Design tools to do the job, not to fit a pressurized glove. And get rid of pressurized gloves entirely to unleash the full operational potential of the astronaut’s hands.

  • $\begingroup$ I agree all that you wrote, but it doesn't directly answer the NASA part of the the question. $\endgroup$
    – Freddo411
    Jan 16, 2022 at 15:57

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