Working in space can be a sweaty business. We’ll see how engineers are helping astronauts keep cool. Today, on Engineering Works!
Here on Earth, we don’t think much about how astronauts keep cool in their space suits. It’s important and harder than you think. It gets hot up there — as hot as 250 degrees Fahrenheit. Hot enough to boil water. Dangerously hot.
Astronauts have this problem because there’s no air in orbit. On earth, the sun’s heat rays never hit us directly. Some of the UV rays do hit us, though. They hit molecules of air and heat them. Those molecules pass on their heat to other molecules that eventually touch us — nowhere near as hot as what the astronauts experience in space.
Engineers are trying to solve the problem by adding another layer to the suit’s cooling system. Astronauts already wear mesh suits that circulate cooling water next to their skin. The new cooling system would add high-tech water-absorbing fabric that removes moisture from the skin and holds it. Then when it gets too hot inside the suit, the fabric releases outside the suit the moisture it absorbed, cooling the fabric just like what happens to our skin when we sweat.
Firefighters, steelworkers and others who work in extremely hot conditions already use a cooling system kind of like this, and engineers think it will work for astronauts, too.
It’s time for us to get off the hot seat and into the cool. We’ll see you next time.