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Spacetex2 Researches Functional Textiles in Zero Gravity

Textile technology has come a long way—and now its headed for outer space.

When German astronaut Dr. Alexander Gerst lifted off on Wednesday for his “Horizons” mission at the International Space Station ISS, he brought with him experiments in the Spacetex2 project, which includes clothing physiology experiments.

These experiments will investigate the interaction of the body, clothing and climate under zero gravity conditions related to wear comfort for the first time. The findings of Spacetex2 will help to optimize clothing for astronauts, known as IVA “intra-vehicular activity” clothing, and help plan for long-term missions such as the planned manned flight to Mars in the 2030s.

As part of the goal, the project also provides key insights for the development of new functional textiles that can also be used on Earth under extreme climatic and physiological conditions, according to the Hohenstein Institute.

“Alexander Gerst has to sweat quite a lot in space in order to activate the cooling performance of the functional shirts,” project manager Dr. Jan Beringer from Hohenstein said.

The fact that sweating under zero gravity is different from sweating on Earth was discovered in 2014 during the previous Spacetex project and is a helpful framework condition for the experiments.

Explaining, Beringer said, “Like on Earth, the human body emits heat when under strain and tries to cool itself down in this way. However, zero gravity changes heat exchange on the surface of the body–there is no loss of heat due to convection when in space. During physical activity, heat thus builds up quicker than on earth. The result of this is that the core body temperature rapidly climbs to values that are too high to be healthy. Therefore, it is very important to optimize heat exchange through the evaporative cooling of sweat by clothing made of appropriate materials.”

During the “Blue Dot” mission in 2014, Gerst’s deployment to space provided valuable findings that were included in the further development of the functional shirts now specifically manufactured for the ISS.

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“Now it is the moment of truth–the examination of three shirts in space, each with a different cooling performance,” Beringer added.

The project is a collaboration of Hohenstein, Charité University Medical Department in Berlin, German Aerospace Center and the European Space Agency. Special sensors used in the “MetabolicSpace” experiment provide data on respiration, heart beats and oxygen level. As such, researchers are able to examine the effects of different functional shirts on body temperature, wear comfort and performance, individually.