Mars Advanced Glove Engineering
NASA plans to put humans on Mars by 2032. We know a lot about the environment of Mars, and we know a lot about humans, but we can’t (or rather, shouldn’t) build a glove, test it, and iterate on the design after going to Mars. For travel to Mars it will be crucial to develop methods to prototype, test, and iterate designs here on Earth.
There is a large body of knowledge relating to current space suit, pressure suit, and space glove designs. We also have a pretty good idea of the tasks that humans will perform on Mars. This project began by conducting a literature review of existing knowledge that would inform the process of building and testing a glove. We also interviewed subject matter experts (SMEs) in fields related to Mars, and in trades which perform tasks similar to astronauts.
The results of the initial research indicated the following were of primary importance:
Tactile response of glove
Maintain a reasonable temperature
Prototyping & iteration
Microgravity and tactile response were simulated by putting the glove on a scuba diver and having them perform tasks underwater. We also built a vacuum chamber to test the glove with an internal pressure equivalent to what a suit on Mars would be pressurized to. Lastly, the prototype was subjected to a Martian dust substitute recommended by one of the SMEs.
We incorporated the feedback from our testing and construction experiences into the final prototype. Improvements included specialized stitching around the knuckles to help the glove stay in place by “crawling” the fabric towards the wrist during normal movements.
Gloves are complex, and there are many factors to consider in the design, such as indexing of the hand within the glove, material selection, and minimizing fatigue. Testing is difficult and time-consuming because it can take three or more separate tests to simulate the different aspects of Mars (pressure, dust, and microgravity). Separate tests also fail to take into account unforeseen combinations of factors that could contribute to problems.
The greatest contribution of this project is the body of work from research and interviews, followed by the testing techniques and apparatus. Constructing serviceable space gloves will require investment in significantly more experience and materials.
To learn more about the project, check out our process blog: https://marsglove.wordpress.com/