October 4, 2000
John Ira Petty
Johnson Space Center, TX
The technology that protects spacewalking astronauts may soon be available to firefighters on the ground through the development of an advanced suit offering greater protection, endurance, mobility and better communications.
It will be one of many space-based technologies that could make life better on Earth to be shown at Johnson Space Center’s Inspection 2000, Nov. 1 to 3.
I-2000 will offer industry, business, community and education professionals an opportunity to discover NASA technologies and processes that might be applied to their own activities. Guests can also visit JSC facilities (many of them unique), and talk with scientists and engineers who work to meet technical challenges and expand human knowledge and capabilities. NASA officials will be there to talk about how those technologies can be licensed for private-sector use.
Johnson Space Center, working with the Houston Fire Department, the Department of Defense and Lockheed Martin, is developing the prototype suit that could double the time a firefighter can battle a blaze before having to rest and cool off.
Fires in the United States kill more than 5,000 people each year and injure almost 30,000 others, causing more than $130 billion in economic losses. About 100 firefighters are killed and about 100,000 injured annually. Greater firefighting efficiencies could reduce those losses.
The advanced firefighter’s suit will use a number of state-of-the-art NASA technologies. Among them is active cooling, protecting the firefighter from metabolic heat trapped in the suit. Combined with new fabrics on the outer garment, the liquid cooling inner garment can allow more lengthy exposure to temperatures of up to 500 degrees Fahrenheit, compared to a maximum of 300 degrees for current suits. It will be double sealed, exposing no skin areas and providing protection against hazardous materials. The suit also will offer greater impact protection.
The design is still evolving. The suit ultimately could have an integrated modern helmet with duplex radio, infrared imaging to search for fire victims, biodata and temperature sensors, and readouts on the status of its life support system. Infrared imaging work at Johnson Space Center is coupled with an effort to provide infrared victim-search capability for the International Space Station.
The next-generation suit is modular. Its ergonomic design allows more freedom of movement than present suits and it is light in weight.
Kumar Krishen, chief technologist in the Technology Transfer and Commercialization Office, Tico Foley, an aerospace engineer in the Crew Station Branch of JSC’s Space and Life Sciences Directorate, and firefighters have identified about 40 potential areas for high-tech improvements. One is the cooling capability. “With protection from both internal and external heat sources, the firefighter will be able to extend the time available to perform the tasks of saving lives and property,” Foley said.
The Houston Fire Department set goals and requirements for the suit. The Johnson Space Center’s Technology Transfer and Commercialization Office is responsible for coordinating the project and developing approaches for the design, integration and testing of the suit and its components. The Defense Department developed heat stress models and developed, tested and evaluated materials.
Such suits could be produced in large numbers for perhaps twice the cost of current suits. But predicted reduction in firefighter deaths and injuries, greater efficiencies in rescuing victims and allowing firefighters more time and greater efficiencies in fighting fires, could make up for the higher cost many times over.
The project to develop the advanced suit began in 1997 when two Houston firefighters brought a badly damaged helmet to the Technology Transfer and Commercialization Office. They asked if NASA technology could offer something better and lighter than the leather design, which dates back to the 1800s. The project expanded to a look at overall protection for firefighters and to development of the advanced suit.
The mission of Johnson Space Center is the expansion of a human presence in space through exploration and utilization, for the benefit of all. Technology from space has found application throughout society – from energy, transportation and agriculture to medicine, communications and electronics.
Inspection99 last November drew 2,500-plus guests from 44 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, and 16 foreign countries. I2000 will be the fifth in a growing and increasingly successful series of the yearly meetings designed to bring the benefits of space technology down to Earth. I2000 is free, but registration is required.
To register and for more information visit http://inspection.jsc.nasa.gov, phone (281) 244-1316, fax (281) 483-9193 or e-mail email@example.com.
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