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Media, Science Spotlight

Learn How To Design A Spacesuit At New Scientist Live 2017

12 August, 2017

Dressing For The Moon: How To Design A Spacesuit - Vinita Marwaha Madill [Image: New Scientist Live]

Dressing For The Moon: How To Design A Spacesuit – Vinita Marwaha Madill [Image: New Scientist Live 2017]

I’m thrilled to announce that I’ll be speaking at New Scientist Live 2017 in London on Friday 29th September! During my talk ‘Dressing For The Moon: How To Design A Spacesuit‘ I’ll be discussing how to design a spacesuit for the Moon and the exciting projects being planned by space agencies globally to return astronauts to the Moon, including the European Space Agency (ESA). New Scientist Live is ‘the world’s most exciting festival of ideas and discovery’, and will be taking place from 28th September to 1st October 2017. The event is bringing 120+ prominent speakers including British ESA Astronaut Tim Peake, ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ Author Margaret Atwood, Broadcaster & Author Chris Packham, Chef Heston Blumenthal, Scientist & Broadcaster Prof.Alice Roberts and Physicist & Author Sean Carroll to London.

Tickets are available, with a 10% discount offered to Rocket Women readers to attend this exciting event, using the code ‘SPEAKER10‘!

To book tickets for Dressing For The Moon: How To Design A Spacesuit and and for further information about this fantastic event visit:

Learn about New Scientist Live on Twitter @newscilive & Instagram @NewScientistOfficial. I look forward to meeting you at the event!

I'll be speaking at New Scientist Live 2017 about Dressing For The Moon: How To Design A Spacesuit [New Scientist]

I’ll be speaking at New Scientist Live 2017 about Dressing For The Moon: How To Design A Spacesuit [New Scientist]

Inspiration, Science Spotlight

Inspiring The Next Generation During British Science Week

17 March, 2016

Britain's first astronaut, Helen Sharman, with High Tunstall College of Science students in Hartlepool, UK,  launching its STEM initiative. [Hartlepool Mail]

Britain’s first astronaut, Helen Sharman, with High Tunstall College of Science students in Hartlepool, UK, launching its STEM initiative. [Hartlepool Mail]

This one’s for the Brits.

British Science Week (11-20th March) is being celebrated around the UK this week, organised by the British Science Association. Fortunately, I’m in the UK at the moment and excited to be attending events, especially those focused on space. One popular event in particular, out of the thousands planned, is the Big Bang Fair in Birmingham, the ‘largest celebration of science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) for young people in the UK’, through a combination of ‘exciting theatre shows, interactive workshops and exhibits, as well careers information from STEM professionals’. The event runs from 16-19 March 2016 and I’d highly recommend anyone, especially young people, with an interest in STEM to attend!

But why is it so important to inspire the next generation to consider science and engineering?

Well, looking to the future, there is a ‘massive skill requirement for engineering‘ upcoming over the next few years. According to a recent report released this month, one in five schoolchildren would have to become an engineer to fill that gap in the UK. With only 15% of UK engineering graduates being female and only 2% of engineering professionals, encouraging more girls to pursue engineering will help to fill this gap, ensuring that they make up 50% of engineering talent.

But we need more engineers and scientists as a whole. Which is why events such as British Science Week and organisations including Stemettes and STEMNET are so essential, and why Rocket Women exists. Inspiring the next generation to consider a degree in STEM isn’t just a nice idea, but a goal that we need to focus on to ensure the UK, and similarly other countries around the globe, have the talent to fill an increasing need for STEM skills in the future.

Update: An event that I couldn’t miss during British Science Week was the Scanning The Horizon: Space Travel Through The Ages event with TV presenter Dallas Campbell and BBC Horizon Editor Steve Crabtree. It was amazing to see footage from the Horizon’s space archives and I even got to do my first on-camera interview for the British Science Association!

Horizon's recent film about British astronaut Tim Peake's training

Horizon’s recent film about British astronaut Tim Peake’s training

Being interviewed for the British Science Assciation at the Scanning The Horizon event (with BBC's Dallas Campbell on the left)

Being interviewed for the British Science Association at the Scanning The Horizon event (with BBC’s Dallas Campbell on the left)

Inspirational women, Science Spotlight

The Untold Story of the New Horizons Mission Team

13 July, 2015

The Women Working on the New Horizons Mission.
Front from left to right: Amy Shira Teitel, Cindy Conrad, Sarah Hamilton, Allisa Earle, Leslie Young, Melissa Jones, Katie Bechtold, Becca Sepan, Kelsi Singer, Amanda Zangari, Coralie Jackman, Helen Hart. Standing, from left to right: Fran Bagenal, Ann Harch, Jillian Redfern, Tiffany Finley, Heather Elliot, Nicole Martin, Yanping Guo, Cathy Olkin, Valerie Mallder, Rayna Tedford, Silvia Protopapa, Martha Kusterer, Kim Ennico, Ann Verbiscer, Bonnie Buratti, Sarah Bucior, Veronica Bray, Emma Birath, Carly Howett, Alice Bowman. Not pictured: Priya Dharmavaram, Sarah Flanigan, Debi Rose, Sheila Zurvalec, Adriana Ocampo, Jo-Anne Kierzkowski. [NASA]

Tomorrow (July 14) at 7:49 am EDT we see a dwarf planet up-close for the first time, but behind this historic achievement is a team of brilliant, hard-working women. The New Horizons mission will fly-by Pluto tomorrow after travelling through the Solar System for over 9 years, allowing the world to learn about this icy dwarf planet during it’s 30,800 miles per hour (49,600 kilometers per hour) flyby. However the story that most people will not hear is of the mission team, with the flight team comprised by 25% women, potentially making it the NASA mission with highest number of women staffers, including many scientists and engineers. These women have dedicated their careers and years of their lives to this mission, to gain unique data from the seven instruments aboard New Horizons and gain an unprecedented insight into Pluto and it’s largest moon, Charon, in particular. The team are working to learn about their composition and the potential thin atmosphere that’s shared between them.

Alice Bowman, New Horizons Mission Operations Manager (MOM), On Console [Twitter]

Moreover Alice Bowman, New Horizons Mission Operations Manager (MOM) and group supervisor of the Space Department’s Space Mission Operations Group, made history as the first female Mission Operations Manager (MOM) at  Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory (APL). When reading about the novel scientific discoveries gained by the instruments aboard New Horizons this week, make sure to remember the dedication of the women behind the mission.

Science Spotlight

Science Spotlight – 50 Years of Spacewalking

3 June, 2015

NASA Astronaut Edward H. White Conducting the First US EVA on June 3, 1965

50 years ago on this day, Edward White stepped out of his Gemini spacecraft into the vacuum of space and made history, becoming the first spacewalking American astronaut. Spacewalks are inherently risky endeavours summed up by NASA Astronaut Butch Wilmore as simply “being in the vacuum of space and attached by a little metal tether”, all the while orbiting the Earth at 17,100 mph exposed to Micrometeroid and Orbital Debris (MMOD). Ed White’s spacewalk,  taking place 77 days after the first EVA (Extravehicular Activity) by Russian cosmonaut Alexey Leonov, could possibly be described as one of the riskiest of all and set the precedent for the future of the space program. A spacewalk is performed outside the protective environment of a space habitat or vehicle. To survive the vacuum environment, the human body needs to be in a pressurised enclosure, which is precisely what an EVA suit (spacesuit) is, alongside a life support system. It’s essentially an anthropomorphic, mini spacecraft with the complexity of a large spacecraft. The design of an EVA suit may seem simple at first sight since they are covered with a fabric thermal micrometeoroid garment, but it is in fact one of the most complex technological developments to carry out.

Future spacesuit designers need to provide crew members with a comfortable interior pressure, sufficient flexibility, mobility and microclimate for a range of EVA activities, whilst minimising the risk of suit decompression. In case of an emergency, the suit needs to be able to be worn and removed with ease and rapidly whilst protecting the crewmember from micrometeoroid penetration or puncture. As NASA says when it comes to spacesuits, “understanding the past and learning from mistakes is the only way to progress”. Once on the surface, the environmental challenges faced on Mars and near-earth asteroid surfaces along with potential EVA durations likely exceeding the cumulative length of every Apollo EVA and would require the design of a versatile and rugged suit.

NASA’s Apollo suits were the first to have plaster hand casts and full body casts created for the crewmembers, improving suit fit. Astronauts today have custom-made EVA gloves only, developed using laser scanning, hand casting, 3D computer modelling, stereo-lithography, laser cutting and CNC machining. To allow mobility, the Apollo suit design ensured that the astronaut could easily translate and flex his fingers even with the tendency of its internal pressure to make it a rigid balloon. This still required significant effort and forearm fatigue due to the glove pressure limited productivity. The Apollo suit was redesigned for the Apollo 15-17 missions to allow the number of lunar surface EVA periods to increase to three and an extension of each EVA to eight hours. Improvements were made in the Apollo suit gloves introducing more bonded and moulded components with an increase in the diameter of the glove wrist disconnect to provide greater wrist comfort and making them easier to wear.  With the lunar rover vehicle (LRV) used for the first time during Apollo 15, the spacesuit needed additional waist mobility and improvements to the integrated micrometeoroid garment (ITMG) in its abrasion resistance against the effects of lunar dust.


Astronaut Jack Schmitt conducting EVA activities at the Apollo 17 landing site. Note the heavily dust covered suit especially near the boots and lower arms. [NASA, 2002]

Lunar dust proved to be a significant problem for the Apollo missions due to it’s highly abrasive nature and caused problems including coating the suits causing seal failures, abrasion and irritation when inhaled by the crew. Lunar dust compromised the ability of the astronauts to re-seal their suits after an EVA, with Apollo 12 astronaut Pete Conrad’s suit after his EVA developing a leak rate of 0.25 psi/min, just below the safety limit of 0.30 psi/min. A 3rd EVA would likely not have been possible if needed. The environmental lunar sample seals also failed resulting in sample contamination. The lunar dust was so abrasive that the astronauts’ suits were worn through the outer layer and into the Mylar multi-layer insulation above the boot. Dust scratched the Apollo 16 suits’ gauge dials to leave them unreadable. The abrasive effect of lunar dust on spacesuit and seals is a major problem for long-duration missions where habitat airlocks or spacesuits will be sealed on a regular basis and needs to be taken into account during future suit design.
ISS shuttle.png

The enhanced EVA suit (left) currently used on the International Space Station (ISS) was developed with the requirement that the number of EVAs required for ISS construction would be greater than all of the previous spacewalks conducted by all of the world’s space programmes. The financial constraints relating to the U.S.’s contribution to the ISS program meant that the Shuttle EMU was upgraded rather than developing a new concept. The new enhanced suit provided easier on-orbit sizing and improved custom glove fitting with a heating system.

Lessons are still being learnt to this day, with a major issue discovered within the suits recently. During an EVA on 16th July 2013, ESA astronaut Luca Parmitano felt water inside his helmet on the back of his head. The amount of water in the helmet increased migrated from the back of his head onto his face. The EVA was terminated early and the crew re-entered the ISS allowing the suit to be removed. Luca also reported impaired visibility and had to breathe with water covering his eyes, nose, and ears. He also had audio communication issues because of the water and had to rely on manually feeling his safety tether’s cable, attaching him to the ISS structure, for pathway directions back to the airlock rather than relying on his sight. It’s the closest call to this date during an ISS EVA with the amount of water in the helmet estimated to be 1-1.5 litres. This particular issue had been caused by a failure of the fan/pump/separator component within the spacesuit, which was subsequently replaced. Astronauts also now install a Helmet Absorption Pad (HAP) inside their helmets to absorb potential water that may enter their helmet. Along with regular glove inspections during an EVA, astronauts will also carry out HAP inspections to feel whether the HAP is “squishy” (A NASA technical term) indicating that it may be holding 200 milliliters of water at the minimum. Up to 600 to 800mL of water can be held by the pad, giving the crew time to return to the safety of the airlock. Water Line Vent Tubes or snorkels have also been installed inside the suit using velcro allowing the crew to breathe from the drier Torso Section of the suit in case of a serious mishap .

EVA30 water.png

Water visible in NASA Astronaut Terry Virts’ helmet post his 25th February spacewalk [NASA TV Screenshot]

In February this year, astronaut Terry Virts also reported water in his helmet when back in the ISS airlock post-EVA, during repressurization caused by sublimator water carryover. Water present in the suit’s sublimator cooling component can condense as the suit is repressurized after a spacewalk. This caused a small amount of water to push into Virts’ helmet however this is now a known and NASA accepted EVA risk. Tackling these issues related to EVA suit design including the effect of lunar dust and glove design will be a challenge, but is currently being investigated.

EVA is a proven capability for meeting mission objectives and is critical to the ISS, with a current total of 1159 hours 8 minutes of EVA having been completed in ISS maintenance and assembly. The lessons learned over the last 50 years of spacewalking are essential to develop a future EVA suit for long-duration human exploration missions including a mission to Mars, needing to withstand the deep-space and Martian environments.

Science Spotlight

Science Spotlight: The Date History Was Made

14 November, 2014

Wednesday 12th November, 2014: The date history was made.

An achievement solely made possible through the efforts and countless hours of work by scientists & engineers at DLR (German Aerospace Centre), CNES (Centre national d’études spatiales – French Space Agency), ESA (European Space Agency) and through partnerships with companies and space agencies globally. The mission has been ongoing for over a decade, since it’s launch on 2nd March 2004. Travelling over 6.4 billion kilometres (4 billion miles) to reach it’s destination, Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, the Philae lander separated from the Rosetta spacecraft and seven (nail-biting) hours later soft-landed on the surface of the comet. It in fact landed a total of 3 times, bouncing twice, initially 1km off the comet before finally coming to rest (landing at 15:33, 17:26 & 17:33 UTC.).

The Philae Lander Control Centre (LCC) At DLR MUSC In Cologne, Germany [DLR]

I was lucky enough to work at DLR MUSC (Microgravity User Support Centre) with the fantastic Philae Lander team whilst operating payloads on the ISS (International Space Station). Landing Philae, a spacecraft the size of a household fridge, on a 3-mile-long comet travelling at 80,000 miles per hour is no easy task. Arduous work that ESA’s Director General Jean-Jacques Dordain mentioned in his congratulatory speech as success made look easy.

Due to their work we’re lucky to have a multitude of scientific discoveries to come. Comet 67P is over 4 billion years old, older than the Earth itself. Through the Rosetta mission we will hopefully discover whether comets are responsible for bringing life to Earth, through the prebiotic molecules and water, along with gaining a deeper insight into the origins of our solar system, our own home. After landing, telemetry showed that Philae had actually sunk four centimeters into the surface of the comet, indicating a partially-soft surface.

The Top 3 Trending Topics on Twitter in London, UK On The Day Of Philae’s Landing

The photos below show the sheer emotion of the entire Rosetta/Philae team when learning that Philae had touched down on the surface of 67P. As said after the successful landing, ‘We hope that the Rosetta mission will inspire the next generation to go to space, just as Apollo has done for us.” It indeed looks as though the Rosetta mission has caught the world’s imagination, with the top 3 trending topics on Twitter in London, UK yesterday being #CometLanding, #Rosetta and #Philae. With #CometLanding or Comet being mentioned in 479,434 tweets! Here’s hoping that the young people watching the Rosetta mission are inspired to study STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) and create their own extraordinary achievement in the years to come.

Rosetta Mission Managers & Operations Directors Celebrating!

CNES scientists & engineers celebrating

Mission Managers & Operations Directors Checking Telemetry From Philae and Rosetta

Space Agency Directors Celebrating The Successful Landing of Philae


Sidenote: On a less positive note, the unfortunate choice of attire by a Rosetta scientist (live on air in a broadcast watched by hundreds of thousands worldwide), brought an uncalled-for distraction from the amazing achievements of hundreds of scientists and engineers who had meticulously planned the project over the previous 25 years. After the science gained and successful landing of Philae, the next most talked about Rosetta-related topic on social media was the scientist’s (who I’m sure is extremely talented in his own right) choice to wear this:

Worn During A Live Global Broadcast

I wanted to say that this choice of attire isn’t the norm of scientists and operations engineers in the space industry or in a STEM career, especially considering the scientist was on a LIVE on-air broadcast. With formal attire worn at NASA’s Mission Control for on-camera personnel and those on-console, Europe’s (mission polo-heavy) control centres are certainly not a place where the offending shirt would be welcome. I’ve certainly never seen anything like this during my time on-console carrying out ISS payload operations or whilst working at any of ESA or DLR’s centres. I strongly hope this doesn’t dissuade anyone from following a career into space operations, or takes away from the astonishing scientific achievement conducted by the team. Spacecraft operations is an extremely rewarding career, as I’ll talk about in my next post!