From our previous research, we know that being subject to microgravity can lead to sarcopenia (muscle atrophy) and increased intracranial pressure due to blood fluids pooling around the brain.
A group of researchers at the University of California-San Diego funded by NASA have put together a negative-pressure suit that helps astronauts with just that.
The “mobile gravity suit” exerts negative pressure on the wearer’s legs, drawing in blood there. “But why?” you might wonder. On Earth, when we stand upright, the force of gravity exerted on us and our circulatory system pulls more blood down to the legs. Our vascular system expects this and works to mitigate this, whether the force is there or not.
This is actually one of the reasons why we get a headache when we sleep for long hours, edema simply accumulates in our brains.
Via generating an artificial “ground reaction force” the detrimental effects of microgravity such as bone and density loss are kept to a minimum.
The research published in Frontiers in Physiology details the suit applying lower body negative pressure (LBNP) method as a “small, untethered, and flexible intravehicular activity (IVA) suit.”
The idea with the invention is to give the astronauts flexibility they need to complete tasks they have while onboard a spacecraft. And since the suit can be worn during daily activities, the crew gets to enjoy less downtime. The paper details “With the gravity suit, astronauts will be able to float freely around the space station while adhering to their everyday tasks.”
The suit works with a portable vacuum system that ensures full mobility and user control. The researchers also claim that “Once space travel becomes commercialized, this device may ensure the health of future civilian space travelers,” and add that “This innovation may be pivotal for the journey to Mars.”