Astronaut 'Skinsuit' Could Soothe Zero-G Backaches in Space
This high-tech "skinsuit" for astronauts is a tailor-made overall with a bi-directional weave specially designed to counteract the lack of gravity to help avoid backaches. It squeezes the body from the shoulders to the feet with a similar force to that felt on Earth.
Credit: NASA–Waldie

A new tight-fitting "skinsuit" could help astronauts combat the back problems that are a common consequence of long-term spaceflight, researchers say.

Astronauts have grown as much as 2.75 inches (7 centimeters) during space missions as their spines stretch out in microgravity conditions— a dramatic change that can cause significant pain, European Space Agency (ESA) officials said. The problems often continue back on Earth, as astronauts have a high chance of suffering a slipped disk while working themselves back into shape for terrestrial life.

ESA hopes the new skinsuit will make off-planet living much more comfortable by counteracting the lack of gravity. The garment features a bi-directional weave that squeezes the body from the shoulders to the feet, mimicking the gravitational force felt on Earth. [The Human Body in Space: 6 Weird Facts]

An astronaut "skinsuit" concept undergoes weightless testing in a microgravity research flight. The skinsuit is a tailor-made garment designed to squeeze an astronaut's body to help counteract the lack of Earth's gravity in space.
An astronaut "skinsuit" concept undergoes weightless testing in a microgravity research flight. The skinsuit is a tailor-made garment designed to squeeze an astronaut's body to help counteract the lack of Earth's gravity in space.
Credit: NASA–Waldie

"Getting the suit to fit correctly was challenging," Simon Evetts, medical projects and technology unit team lead at ESA's European Astronaut Center in Cologne, Germany, said in a statement. "We needed to create a suit that is both tight-fitting but comfortable to wear, while creating the right amount of force in the right places."

This high-tech "skinsuit" for astronauts is a tailor-made overall with a bi-directional weave specially designed to counteract the lack of gravity. Here,  the force the suit is producing is being  measured at the feet with a computer using force transducers in the soles of the footwear.
This high-tech "skinsuit" for astronauts is a tailor-made overall with a bi-directional weave specially designed to counteract the lack of gravity. Here, the force the suit is producing is being measured at the feet with a computer using force transducers in the soles of the footwear.
Credit: NASA–Waldie

ESA's Space Medicine Office is working with researchers from Kings College and University College in London and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to test out skinsuit prototypes, which are currently made of spandex. The suit will get a flight test in 2015, when ESA astronaut Andreas Mogensen wears it aboard the International Space Station, officials said.

While the skinsuit is being developed for use in space, it could have applications here on Earth as well, researchers said.

Students from Kings College London, UK, wearing the 'Skinsuit' as subjects for a functional evaluation study. Image released Jan. 10, 2014.
Students from Kings College London, UK, wearing the 'Skinsuit' as subjects for a functional evaluation study. Image released Jan. 10, 2014.
Credit: Kings College London, Centre for Human Aerospace Physiological Sciences

"If the technology is effective in space, it could help the elderly and many people with lower-back problems on Earth," Evetts said. "Additionally, skinsuit technology could improve the support garments currently used for conditions like cerebral palsy."

Astronauts typically spend about six months living on the International Space Station in a given mission. In 2015, NASA and Russia's Federal Space Agency will launch an astronaut and cosmonaut to the station on an unprecedented one-year mission to study the effects of long-duration weightlessness on the human body to help inform future missions in deep space.

Follow Mike Wall on Twitter @michaeldwall and Google+. Follow us @Spacedotcom, Facebook or Google+. Originally published on SPACE.com.

As an any astronaut will tell you, life in space is a lot like life on Earth—with some very important differences. On Earth, for example, if you leave your fork floating in air while you grab for your spoon, it will quickly hit the floor. Other difference
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Quiz: The Reality of Life in Orbit
As an any astronaut will tell you, life in space is a lot like life on Earth—with some very important differences. On Earth, for example, if you leave your fork floating in air while you grab for your spoon, it will quickly hit the floor. Other difference
Shuttle Astronauts Due for Time Off in Space
0 of questions complete