When we think of astronauts aboard the International Space Station (ISS) or on the surface of the moon, we often picture them floating weightlessly or moving awkwardly in a new level gravity. While it looks graceful and fun, it’s also a challenge when trying to complete the ordinary and specialized tasks that astronauts need to carry out.
That’s why engineers develop tools, contraptions, and equipment that balance variations in gravity. It may not be the first thing you think of when considering what we’ll need as we return to the Moon, reach Mars, and go beyond, but astronauts need a place to sit, sleep, and work. Which brings us to the challenge of space furniture.
Engineering Furniture For The Moon And Mars
Mechanical engineering students at Rice University have been helping NASA design and develop furniture that can be shipped to and function on places that have very different gravity here on Earth, including Mars and the Moon. Not only will this furniture need to fit within strict weight and size restrictions as it travels from Earth to a heavenly body, it will need to reliably function within space habitats and make a new frontier feel a little bit like home.
Strong, Lightweight, And Compact
The five Rice University seniors who were up for the design challenge decided to create a desk and chair. The furniture combo would give pioneering astronauts a comfortable place to sit and do some desk work, like completing daily entries in a space logbook as ISS team members do. For the desk and chair to work in such a unique application, it needed to address a number of factors.
The chair’s aluminum base has been designed to be sturdy as well as lightweight. High strength foam has been used on the chair’s seat and back cushions, and a rotating axis structure allows the chair to be reclined and adjusted for comfort and support. Both the chair and the table can be folded flat and modified for various height accommodations.
Counteracting Limited Gravity
While we have furniture with features like this here on Earth, they’re incorporated into these prototypes for different reasons; primary among them is counteracting the reduced gravity that astronauts will experience on Mars. Rice University design team member Alex Schmidt explained the reason for building furniture that allows for a body neutral position, even when limited gravity doesn’t lead to as much physical fatigue: “If you’re in a habitat on Mars for six months, you want to feel like you’re used to on Earth.”
Tell us you what you think about the furniture the student’s developed. Are you eager to see more prototypes designed to work in varying levels of gravity? How would you design such objects?