To reduce the debilitating physical effect that space flights have on astronauts' bodies, Australian researchers have designed a skin-tight space suit that mimics the impact of gravity.
The brainchild of aerospace engineer James Waldie, an alumnus of RMIT University in Melbourne, the SkinSuit was inspired by the striking bodysuit worn by Australian sprinter Cathy Freeman at the 2000 Sydney Olympics.
Waldie and his collaborators have spent more than 15 years getting the suit into space.
"Seeing live video of Andreas (Mogensen) wearing SkinSuit on board the ISS was thrilling -- I felt an enormous sense of achievement that my concept was finally in orbit," Waldie said.
In the weightless conditions in space, astronauts can lose up to two percent bone mass per month. Their spines can also stretch by up to seven centimetres, with most suffering mild to debilitating pain.
"Given the impact of atrophy on astronauts in space, I wondered if a suit like the one worn by Freeman could fool the body into thinking it was on the ground rather than in space and, therefore, stay healthy," Waldie said.
The special design of the suit means it can impose a gradual increase in vertical load from the wearer's shoulders to their feet, simulating the loading regime normally imposed by body-weight standing on earth.
European Space Agency astronaut Andreas Mogensen recently tested the SkinSuit on board the International Space Station.
For the ISS flight, the European Space Agency wanted to explore if the suit could counteract the effects of spaceflight on the spine.
Mogensen has since returned to Earth but is yet to publicly report his findings as he undergoes extensive de-briefing, a statement released by RMIT University stated.
"We believe if we can reduce spinal elongation in space, we can reduce the stress on the intervertebral discs," Waldie said.
"This should help with pain in-flight, and the chances of slipped discs post-flight," he said in an official statement.
The SkinSuit has been developed in collaboration with scientists from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Kings College London and the European Space Agency.
The suit was manufactured by Italian firm Dainese, best known for producing motorbike leathers for racing.