Did you think drinking your own urine was bad? To truly test whether you have the right stuff, imagine ripping out your own fingernails, on purpose.
A couple of astronauts have done this before going into orbit, because they figure it's better than losing them inside chafing, unwieldy spacesuit gloves, according to Dava Newman, director of MIT's technology and policy program and director of the university's Man Vehicle Lab. Newman, who has studied space-related injuries, told a group of journalists at MIT that some astronauts have reported losing their fingernails during spacewalks. Fingernail trauma and other hand injuries are spacewalkers' biggest complaint, she said.
In a forthcoming study, Newman says astronauts with big hands suffer the worst. National Geographic News explains that improved, custom-fitted gloves might be the solution.
In a recent study of astronaut injuries, at least 22 reported lost fingernails, a phenomenon called fingernail delamination. It happens because of pressure on the fingertips, but researchers also think circulation cutoff could be to blame, NGN explains.
Astronaut gloves are designed to simulate the air pressure on Earth, so they're made of a pressurized rubber layer embedded in a thick, space-proof shell. Spacewalking astronauts must constantly fight against the bulky pressurized glove to do their work — imagine gripping a wrench while wearing skiing mittens, and you get the idea. This constant bending and flexing causes chafing, blisters and, apparently, fingernail loss.
NASA has long known this is a problem, hence the agency's two-time Astronaut Glove Challenge. Newman's new study, which will be published in the October issue of Aviation, Space, and Environmental Medicine, says astronauts' varying hand widths are the biggest problem. For astronauts with wide hands, gloves are too tight where the fingers meet the palm, and this might cut off circulation to the fingertips, the study says. Circulation loss could explain why fingernails fall off.
Customized gloves or new ones with robotic joints might be the best answer for these large-handed spacewalkers, as NGN reports.
Newman's lab also works on building less-bulky spacesuits that rely on mechanical counterpressure, and she believes gloves with actuators might be the way to go, NGN says.
Frankly, we don't much care what it looks like — we just hope engineers can come up with something to make this aspect of spaceflight a little less torturous.
Gross, yet fascinating, at the same time. At least they get to eat astronaut ice cream.
hm... wouldn't you think it'd be possible to use a highly elastic material to make space suits out of? It'd be flexible- oh, right, cooling systems. No reason you couldn't have a flexible one though...
@Dustin2127 and heating systems, don't forget the heating systems, otherwise you'd be no more than an organic frozen rock drifting around in space.
NASA is pretty resourceful, maybe they can make just that particular area from a more stretchy material? Whatever ends up happening, I hope it won't be an issue for much longer! That sucks...
but these guys invented memory foam! how can they not create usable gloves
uuggghh, worst topic for a PopSci article EVER. I love popsci, but this is just gross. Not something I care to know about...
I thought a bunch of different companies all around the world have been working on new space suits. The space suit is as old as the shuttle. You would think they would have made some better ones by now. The advance of polymers and textiles in the past 20 years is almost as amazing as it is transistor tech.
Been there done that can I go?
Robonaut is the solution.
Is it too hard to give them robotic hands they can control from the suit?
Anyone know where I can get some tang around here?
I'd still be an astronaut.
Robonaut is only meant to complement the work of Astronauts. Besides, Robonaut doesn't have legs.
"Welcome! to the Federation Starship SS Buttcrack!!!"
yucky. with the hundreds of billions of dollars nasa spends they can certainly fix this problem.
yes, having heating systems might also be a good idea.
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I'd lose all my fingernails and my toenails if they let me go to space.
They are better people than I to rip off their own nails. I fell two years ago and caught my finger on something on the way down, ripping off my nail completely. It hurt like hell and kept me awake for a few nights. I went to a doctor and asked her if it would grow back. She replied "if the nail bed is intact". She couldn't tell? Anyway it did slowly grow back and looks almost normal but it took almost a year. The astronauts really do have "The Right Stuff" or they are nuts. Not sure which but I salute them.
Man! That is the same thing I do when I hear bag-pipes!
The answer is to not even try to make a glove; make a better robotic arm that can approximate the human hand and carry out necessary repairs.
@abowar seriously that is your comment when you come to a partially science oriented website? You need to get out more there are much more gross things than that. Man human kind has gotten weak.
Make a big hamster ball that has jets on the outside and robotisc stuff outside :D