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June 30, 1998

Don Nolan-Proxmire
Headquarters, Washington, DC
(Phone: 202/358-1983)

Audrey Schwartz Rivers
Johnson Space Center, Houston, TX
(Phone: 281/483-5111)

Release: H98-116

Improved NASA Space Suit Technology Gives Virginia Boy His First Day in the Sun

Like an astronaut setting foot on a new world, a six-year-old Virginia Beach, VA, boy can explore Earth during daylight for the first time, thanks to new NASA space suit technology.

On April 19, Mikie Walker became the first American child to receive a modified "space suit" that protects him from the sun's ultraviolet rays and other light sources. Mikie has porphryia, a genetic disorder that causes extreme and potentially dangerous sunlight sensitivity that can result in chronic skin inflammation, blistering, inflammation of nerves, abdominal pain and other disturbances. For some children with light sensitivity disorders, even a 40-watt light bulb can be dangerous.

"Mikie's new favorite outdoor activities include playing in dirt and rolling on the lawn," his mother Angela Walker said. "He enjoys this so much that, at the end of the day, he resembles a soil-encrusted Apollo moonwalker."

NASA's Johnson Space Center (Houston, TX) Office of Technology Transfer and Commercialization offered the suit to Mikie through an agreement with the not-for-profit HED and Related Disorders Foundation, Hampton, VA.

"It's amazing to think that NASA astronauts having walked on the Moon means a child now can play in the sunlight," said Sarah Moody, founder and president of the HED Foundation, which donates cooling gear and other garments to children with hypohidrotic ectodermal dysplasia (HED), multiple sclerosis, spina bifida, cerebral palsy and other genetic disorders. HED is a medical disorder characterized by a lack of sweat glands, which can lead to heat exhaustion, heatstroke and even death. Thirty children are on the foundation's waiting list for a suit like Mikie's.

The pint-sized space suit blocks nearly all of the sun's ultraviolet rays. Mikie sports an improved version of a prototype protective suit provided last September to four-year-old Kyle and two-year-old Ryan Richards of Shotton Colliery, England. The brothers have Polymorphic Light Reaction Syndrome, a serious allergy to light that causes severe skin lesions. Without the suits, the brothers could venture outside only at night. Last fall, the boys, who looked like junior astronauts, wore their protective suits to Disney World in Orlando, FL, and also viewed a Space Shuttle launch at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Thanks to the "expert" feedback provided by the Richards brothers, NASA developed an upgraded version of the protective garment. The suit's headpiece was redesigned totally to enhance ventilation and reduce overheating in the head area.

"The body cooling system was changed from a battery-powered liquid pump unit to a passive phase change vest, made of material similar to refrigerator cold packs used for sports injuries. The vest is simple, less expensive and more durable than the original battery pump," saidRobert Dotts, assistant director of Technology Transfer and Commercialization at Johnson. The new phase change vest is easier to use for both children and their families and brought down the cost of the entire UV suit, Dotts said.

MicroClimate Systems, Inc., of Sanford, MI, supplied the phase change vest, and the Solar Protective Factory of Carmichael, CA, provided the UV protective outer garments. The DRLI Company, which supplies protective coatings for astronauts' space suit helmets, supplied the clear UV-blocking coating for Mikie's ski-goggle-like face visor. According to HED Foundation's Moody, who presented the NASA suit to the Walker family, a giggly Mikie couldn't wait to don his "space suit" and explore the outdoor world of his home planet in daylight. The family headed for a local lake and, also for the first time, Mikie could look at the scenery out the van's windows. Previously, the passenger windows of any vehicle in which Mikie rode, had to be covered completely to prevent exposure to sunlight.

For more information about UV protective suits for children with applicable disorders, contact the HED Foundation at P.O. Box 9421, Hampton, VA, 23670, phone 757/826-0065, or check out the web site at:

http://www.microclimate.com/hed/

 

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