Alexander Gerst is about to have a very busy six months. When the German astronaut docks at the International Space Station later this month, he’ll be responsible for nearly 40 experiments, including “Spacetex”, the first clothing-physiology trials to be conducted in a weightless environment. Research partners from the Hohenstein Institute, Charité, the German Aerospace Center, and Switzerland’s Schoeller Textil AG say they hope to gather data, not only to optimize astronauts’ clothing for future space voyages and long-term missions, but also to aid in the development of new textile products for extreme climatic and physiological conditions on Earth.
Textiles have to be adapted for use in space for a number of reasons, according to project leader Jan Beringer of the Hohenstein Institute. For one thing, the absence of gravity changes the way the body transports heat and sweat through clothing worn next to the skin. To counter the rapid degeneration of bone and muscle tissue that occurs in zero gravity, astronauts have to train on special equipment, a process that subjects their bodies to greater physiological strain than it does on Earth.
These so-called “space-proven” textiles won’t just be a boon to spacefarers, however. Planet-side explorers will also profit from the research. “We will feed the findings from the Spacetex project into our product development and optimization work [for] future astronauts,” says Hans-Jürgen Hübner, Schoeller Textil AG. “We’ll also make sure that people here on Earth who push the limits of their physical endurance or have to deliver peak performance in extreme conditions benefit, as well.”