To support long-duration missions to the moon or Mars, the next generation of spacesuits will need to be able to do many things current spacesuits do not. Those new capabilities will require the development of new spacesuit systems. David Carek's job is to make sure all those new systems work together flawlessly.
What is your job, and how do you support spacesuit development?
I am a lead systems engineer in the Systems Engineering Division at NASA's Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, Ohio. I primarily work on the communications, avionics, software and power systems for the new spacesuits that will be used to return to the moon. We call a spacewalk an extravehicular activity, so often you will see the acronym "EVA" used to describe both a spacewalk as well as the spacesuit system.
In addition to lunar missions, these spacesuits will be used in the new rocket NASA is building to transport astronauts to the International Space Station. We are in the early phases of the EVA project and are developing the requirements and preliminary design for the electronics that will go into the new suit. Much of my work involves interacting with a diverse cross section of folks that directly perform and support current spacewalks, such as astronauts, mission controllers, space medical doctors and various engineering disciplines. These interactions are used to determine and define the needs for the new EVA spacesuits.
Why is this element of spacesuit development important?
The spacesuits used today on the space shuttle and the International Space Station are not compatible with the surface environments of either the moon or Mars, nor can they support the logistical requirements of long-term missions. Significant new development must occur to provide the capabilities needed for extended lunar missions. Without new power, avionics and software systems, NASA would be unable to perform lunar EVAs safely or efficiently.
How did you get your current position?
My current position was a gradual migration from similar work I was doing under a technology development program called Advanced EVA. This was a multicenter collaborative effort among NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston and Glenn. In 2006, the EVA Systems Project Office was created at Johnson to develop the next-generation spacesuits for the Constellation Program. Glenn was given responsibility for the power, communications, avionics and software systems within this project. As part of that transition, I moved into the lead systems engineering position at Glenn.
Were you involved with NASA as a student in high school or college, and, if so, what projects were you involved with?
Yes, I was fortunate to be selected for a summer internship with NASA between my junior and senior years in college. I had the opportunity to work in several areas including mechanical design, analysis, testing and software development. I designed and fabricated a test fixture used to evaluate candidate filler materials in a supersonic compressor. I also developed a computer program that calculated the maximum operating speed for compressor rotors based on disk burst margins.
What are the challenges your team faces in working with this aspect of spacesuit development?
Some of the biggest challenges we face are developing hardware that works in the harsh environment of space. Typical consumer electronics that we have on Earth will not work in space because of radiation, temperature extremes and operation in a vacuum. In addition, the systems we develop must keep astronauts alive from hundreds of thousands of miles away. Our systems must have the highest reliability possible to prevent catastrophic hazards. Mass and power constraints are also formidable challenges for everyone developing space hardware.
As NASA prepares to go back to the moon, what changes will be needed for this aspect of spacewalk support?
Future lunar and Mars expeditions will require greater autonomy for EVA exploration. The capabilities we are developing for future EVA spacesuits include integrated voice, video and data communications systems; advanced avionics displays and controls; medical monitoring systems; advanced caution and warning systems; and software systems to provide autonomous operations and reduced dependency on Earth-based mission control. These key capabilities are needed to increase productivity and safety of the astronauts during an EVA.
What else would you want to tell people about your job or your experiences with spacewalk support?
Being involved with the development of spacesuit flight hardware and software is something that provides a great deal of personal satisfaction for me. It's not something that many people get to do. It's also really cool when you can tell your friends and family that you work with astronauts.
NASA's Glenn Research Center
NASA's Johnson Space Center
NASA Higher Education Projects
David Hitt and Heather R. Smith/NASA Educational Technology Services