Astronauts working in space must wear protective, pressurized suits that also allow them to easily maneuver, so to repair satellites or add solar panels to the space station without constraints. One of the most essential elements of the suit is the glove.
Like an inflated balloon, the fingers of the gloves resist the effort to bend them. Astronauts must fight that pressure with every movement of their hand, which is exhausting and sometimes results in injury. Furthermore, the joints of the glove are subject to wear that can lead to life-threatening leaks. The Astronaut Glove Challenge seeks improvements to glove design that reduce the effort needed to perform tasks in space and improve the durability of the glove. In this challenge, competitors demonstrate their glove design by performing a range of tasks with the glove in an evacuated chamber. The gloves are also tested to ensure that they do not leak.
Two teams–Ted Southern and Peter Homer, who won the 2007 challenge and started his own company to produce his design–entered the 2009 competition, and have already undergone testing. While both contenders’ gloves did not leak and passed the burst test, Homer’s glove reached 20 psi, and Southern’s glove maxed out at 17 psi. The competitors also had to insert their glove in a box and perform 30 minutes of exercises, which included pinching and gripping, and other manipulations that tested dexterity and flexibility. Judges will be scoring the performance.
The results are not yet in, but both designs were deemed “good” by NASA. The agency could possibly incorporate the glove designs into it’s own design, called the Constellation Spacesuit, which will be used to return astronauts to the moon and build a lunar habitat.