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K-State engineers heading for space

By The Mercury

Engineering students at Kansas State University are improving spacesuits to keep astronauts healthy in final frontier conditions.

The team, which includes electrical and computer engineering professors and more than a dozen students, is working to make a better space suit that could monitor astronauts’ health and body heat to power electronics, according to K-State sources.

The project involves five parts, with several students working on each. They revolve around the improvement of radio communication and biosensors that monitor astronauts’ vital signs.

“We have a lot to learn about human physiology and what happens to a person as they physically change in a reduced-gravity environment,” said Steve Warren, an engineering associate professor involved with the project.

The project is funded by a three-year, $750,000 NASA grant. 

Human involvement comes from the Electronic Design Laboratory and the College of Human Ecology – including the kinesiology department and the apparel, textiles and interior design department.

The textiles department fashioned the suits – because real spacesuits cost $13 million. 

The engineers are using 3D electromagnetic field simulators and a spacesuit model built by Erin Monfort-Nelson, a master’s student in apparel, textiles and interior design.

The suit replica is made of multiple layers of material, including metalized fabrics to model the layers in real suits that protect astronauts and keep them warm.

Inside the suit, the engineers are developing ways for the suit’s body sensors to communicate with each other and to a spacesuit hub that transmits the information back to the space station.

“This project is a fantastic community and team-building effort,” Warren said. “It offers a good venue to establish a local community of researchers that have a fruitful and frequent dialogue to accomplish the same goal.

“We can move new ideas into the classroom and teach them to students.”

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