Wild Biomorphic Spacesuits Designed to Survive Hostile Planets 1

Wild Biomorphic Spacesuits Designed to Survive Hostile Planets

2014  Liz Stinson, WIRED, Design

From the wbesite: If you’re planning on extended interplanetary travel, you’re going to need more than a standard spacesuit. Sustaining human life on, say, Mercury or the moons of Jupiter and Saturn, means battling the worst of conditions. “Crushing gravity, ammonius air, prolonged darkness and temperatures that would boil glass or freeze carbon dioxide,” says Neri Oxman, a designer and professor at MIT’s Media Lab. Sounds like paradise, doesn’t it? For a new speculative design project called Wanderers Oxman and her team of students partnered with 3D printing behemoth Stratasys and the computational design duo Deskriptiv to build four wearable skins that serve as bio-augmented space suits. Each is designed to battle a specific extreme environment by transforming elements found there into ones that can sustain human life. “Some are designed to photosynthesize, converting daylight into energy, others bio-mineralize to strengthen and augment human bone,” Oxman explains. In doing so, they offer a wild glimpse of a future in which the barriers between biology and technology have fallen away. Mushtari, designed for life on the moons of Jupiter, is an external digestive tract that fits around the stomach. Oxman designed the organ system to digest biomass, absorb nutrients and expel waste. Humans would be able to convert daylight into consumable sucrose via photosynthetic bacteria that flows through the translucent 3-D printed tracts. “Imagine exposing yourself to the sun, generating sugar cubes in your pockets,” she says. As you move, the energy harvesting pockets digest the matter, creating an endless cycle of consumption and digestion. Zuhal’s thin, fibrous material is covered in a dense, hairy texture which contains a bacteria that can convert the hydrocarbons found on Titan (Saturn’s moon) into safe edible matter for humans. The Otaared exoskeleton accounts for Mercury’s lack of atmosphere by providing an antler-like exoskeleton that safeguards the head against impact. The wearable, which contains a calcifying bacteria, is designed to generate bone growth and remodeling to form a protective exoskeleton. Then there’s Qamar, with its moon-inspired texture. This skin creates and stores oxygen using spherical pockets for algae-based air purification and biofuel collection to enable life on the moon. Each of these futuristic wearables began as a basic seed form, with natural growth simulated to achieve the final shape. If you look closely, you’ll notice each contains a series of 3-D printed microfluidic tubes, which would enable living matter to travel through the skins. At this point, Wanderers is just design fiction. It’s a highly speculative solution to problems that can’t yet be solved in the real world. But it hints at a fascinating future where biology is synthesized for functionality that goes beyond what’s possible with traditional materials. Oxman says she and her students in the Mediated Matter group are currently developing 3-D printed microfluidic devices through which real living matter (for example, biologically engineered photosynthetic bacteria) can be pumped and manipulated. It’s early days yet in the merging of synthetic biology and digital fabrication, but Oxman believes that eventually the field will enable an entirely new class of living materials that could be used in design and architecture—the capabilities of which could be both liberating and terrifying. “In the end,” says Oxman. “It’s clear that the incorporation of synthetic biology in product and architectural design will enable the transition from designs that are inspired by nature, to designs made with and by nature, to, possibly designing nature herself.”

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