Even though they perform superhuman feats, astronauts always look a little ridiculous. Their clunky pressurized spacesuits are functional–they provide oxygen, scrub CO2, and keep astronauts safe from the elements–but they aren’t exactly well-suited for the kind of intensive exploration that astronauts will conduct when humans finally reach Mars.
Dava Newman, a speaker at this year’s TEDWomen event in San Francisco, has spent more than a decade working on a sleeker, better spacesuit for Mars exploration. The MIT aerospace engineering professor‘s Spiderman-like “BioSuit” will finally make astronauts look sexy, and ensure that they can explore difficult terrain without tripping over the bulk of the nearly 300-pound suit in use today.
The invention looks so sleek because it’s pressurized close to the skin–an advance made possible by tension lines on the suit (those are the Spiderman lines) that don’t break when an astronaut bends their arms or knees. Active materials, like nickel-titanium shape-memory alloys, allow the nylon and spandex suit to be shrink-wrapped around the skin even tighter, getting Newman to her goal of designing a suit that has 30% of the atmosphere’s pressure–the level necessary to keep someone alive in space.