The idea of an anti-gravity suit may sound like science fiction, but one of those clothes worn by a NASA astronaut is among the space artifacts that now highlight how aerospace medicine can be ” stranger than fiction ”.
Opening on Saturday (July 3) at the Museum of Flight in Seattle, “Stranger Than Fiction: The Incredible Science of Aerospace Medicine“brings together dozens of aeronautical and space artifacts to tell how physicians and researchers designed the means to keep humans alive and healthy in the extreme environments of air and space flight.
“They have my Kentavr, which is a Russian device for preventing fainting after landing,” NASA astronaut Michael Barratt said in an interview with collectSPACE.com, describing his “anti-gravity suit” – a pair of shorts compression blue he wore to come back. from the International Space Station in 2009. “It squeezes your legs and thighs.”
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A member of the team that helped create the exhibit for the Aviation Museum, Barratt’s familiarity with space medicine precedes his two orbit missions. A former NASA flight surgeon and head of space station medical operations, Barratt lectures extensively on space and extreme medicine and is the editor of a textbook on the subject.
Despite this, Barratt acknowledges that the subject can be considered “stranger than fiction”.
“Well, to me that’s reality, and it’s weird. I would call it a very weird reality,” he said.
“I teach space medicine to a lot of different audiences, mostly medical. So when I do that I’m talking about adaptive physiology, G- [gravity-] loads and microgravity to various medical audiences and they must be six layers of detail. And even for them, it’s very new. What we are seeing is well outside their experience base, “Barratt said.” Now [with this exhibit] we try to communicate these concepts to the general public. So for them it will be kind of science fiction. “
Realizing what the challenge might be from the start, the museum adopted a motif for the exhibition that matches the subject’s expectations: the art of period comics.
“At first there was concern that the exhibit was too technical, too dry, and that it would be difficult to make it appealing to the general public,” Geoff Nunn, deputy museum curator for the history of the city, told collectSPACE. space. “One of the goals of the exhibit is to present flight physicians as heroes and we realized that the stories of them exploring the unknown, acting as their own test subjects and offering these amazing devices and Technological gear to make the flight safe really read like a classic comic book or an action series. “
“So we combined that visual style with these stories because it helped showcase these incredible feats and make them more accessible to the general public,” he said.
“Stranger Than Fiction” covers the history of aviation up to modern spaceflight. In addition to Barratt’s Kentavr, space artifacts in the exhibit include the medical kit stolen during the last flight of Space Shuttle Endeavor; a Russian “Penguin Suit” sized for NASA astronaut Wendy Lawrence to keep her in shape in orbit; and the BioSuit, a skin-tight spacesuit designed by former NASA Assistant Administrator and MIT Professor of Astronautics Dava Newman.
“They also have my Russian biomedical harness that I wore while in a Russian EVA spacesuit. [extravehicular activity, or spacewalk] and some heirloom radiation detectors that we had in our inventory here at NASA from the Apollo era, ”Barratt said.
the exhibition, which runs until February 6, 2022, opens at a time when the number of people with the opportunity to experience spaceflight is expected to increase dramatically with the boom in commercial spaceflight and the space tourism market. Advances in aerospace medicine of the past will help keep these passengers safe, while the growth in the number and types of people traveling is expected to reveal new challenges, Nunn and Barratt said.
“As we begin to seek to fly more spaceflight participants through private companies, the community needs to adjust their vision for spaceflight safety,” Nunn said.
“Not only is the commercial community growing, but the space medical community that is really needed to support and understand this effort is growing as well, and that’s one of the most satisfying things to see,” Barratt said.
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