The Hohenstein Institute, Bönnigheim, Germany, will go to the ends of the earth—and beyond—in its search for better ways to find textile solutions for extremes of stress, climate and even zero gravity. The six-month “Blue Dot” space mission launched in May, and a German astronaut on the International Space Station will carry out the first clothing physiology experiments in weightlessness for a coalition of research partners. The “Spacetex” partners include the Hohenstein Institute, Schoeller Textil AG (Sevelen, Switzerland), Charité Medical School (Berlin, Germany), DLR (Bonn, Germany) and ESA/ESTEC (Cologne, Germany).
“In zero gravity, the breakdown of muscle and bone tissue begins very quickly,” says Prof. Hanns-Christian Gunga of Charité. “To counteract that degeneration, working on special training equipment is extremely important for the astronauts.” The research will also help find the right textiles for Earthlings who “go to the limits of their physical endurance or have to deliver peak performance in extreme ambient conditions.” In normal gravity, sweat drains downward and convection releases heat to the atmosphere, cooling the body. In zero gravity, sweat stays where it occurs, forming a warm aura around the body, negating sweat’s cooling effects and creating physiological strain.
The textiles in the Spacetex testing were subjected to an extensive series of tests on the Hohenstein skin model that simulates human thermoregulation. Breathability and thermal insulation were measured in standard climate and gravity conditions. To take comparable measurements in micro-gravity, the Hohenstein institute is developing a special version of the skin model that may also take flight in 2016 on board an Airbus A300 parabolic flight. The results of the “Blue Dot” experiments will be shared among the partners in developing products that are like nothing else on earth.