Having looked at one of the questions asked in the astronaut test, we may feel like we are well equipped to put on the suit and venture into space. But, it is not that simple. We have seen scenarios in award-winning movies like Gravity, where astronauts lose a sense of direction in the vast majority of space. There is no concept of up and down in the absence of gravity and in this confused state, the astronauts can drift further and further away from their space stations.
Even though that was a movie and Sandra Bullock was miraculously saved in the end, real-life scenarios are a little different. Draper Labs are developing a “Take Me Home” system to overcome this exact problem. Once successful, it will be able to guide the astronaut back to safety.
The system has been designed by the engineers to pinpoint the exact location of the astronaut relative to the point of return. After obtaining the location, the system computes an optimal return trajectory taking time, oxygen consumption, safety, and clearance into account.
There is no GPS in space and you the aim is to get the astronaut back to safety. There may be cases when the astronaut loses consciousness and the system needs to work on its own to avoid any debris in the path. Draper’s new Take Me Home technology is capable of monitoring movement, acceleration, and relative position of a spacewalking astronaut to a fixed object, such as the International Space Station (ISS).
“Giving astronauts a sense of direction and orientation in space is a challenge because there is no gravity and no easy way to determine which way is up and down,” explained Kevin Duda, a space systems engineer at Draper, in a statement. “Our technology improves mission success in space by keeping the crew safe.”
The project was co-funded by NASA so we might be seeing this technology in the future spacesuits. It will still take some time though, as Draper Labs only recently filed for a patent. Once the Take Me Home feature is enabled, the suit will help the astronauts find their way back by showing directions on the helmet’s display. It even has the capability of operating the jetpacks autonomously in case the astronaut is in no condition to operate it himself.
The technology can be operated by the astronaut himself, the space station, or from the control room here at Earth. One thing we can be sure is that no astronaut will be stranded in space ever again and won’t get lost in the vast majority of space!