NASA has announced the winner of its Astronaut Glove Challenge, with a prize of US $200,000 awarded to a Maine engineer for his design of a spacesuit glove. The ergonomics of all aspects of a spacesuit must be sound for astronauts to work safely and efficiently in Space.
The improved dexterity offered by the design of Peter Homer of Southwest Harbor promise to help overcome of the challenges presented by today’s spacesuit gloves: they take much more effort to flex than garden work gloves but are required in operations that require almost surgical precision.
In an interview with The Ergonomics
Report™ in March about the ergonomic issues related to designing spacesuits, NASA biomedical engineer Lara Kearney underlined the importance of dexterity and hand comfort for astronauts working outside the spacecraft. The publication provides articles and research of interest to subscribing professionals in ergonomics and related fields. And a good fit is the starting point. “Close enough” is probably good enough for the suit, she said, “but with the gloves you really want to be very close.” She indicated that dexterity is not the only necessity lost when gloves are ill-fitting. “The gloves are more intimate than anything else and the hands can get fatigued fairly easily. And the space walks can be very hand-intensive handling big masses and things, so [we want] the gloves to fit very well.”
Hand fatigue is also a consideration in the design of tools that will be used by astronauts wearing the gloves, according to the engineer. “In other words,” she said, “instead of going up with mechanical ratchets, we’ll send tools that do the work for them. There is a bit of an art between the hand-to-the-glove-to-the-tool-interface there.” She said they need to make sure a tool fits comfortably in a pressurized gloved hand.
“The gloves are one area that we’ve continued to work on throughout the years,” she added. “We are now at