A waterless (almost) suit, useful for long stays in extremely hot and dry places.
Where did you see?
in a Dune The harsh desert planet of Arakis has two populations: giant sandworms that can reach miles in size, and humans. These so-called Fremen survive the scorching heat and extreme dehydration mainly thanks to “fixed suits,” the ultra-thin suits in which you wrap your entire body and reclaim nearly all of the water you lose every day.
How far are we?
“With a suit that works so well, you won’t lose more than a thimble of water a day,” says Freeman leader Liet Kynes in the sci-fi saga. Dune. Very useful on a desert planet where water is not quite suitable, but it is not necessary on Earth yet. Of course: we also have very hot and dry deserts, but hardly anyone lives there. Those who live there are usually in the suburbs and have already found solutions on their own. Many of these things – like extracting water from the deep roots of plants – are not possible on the fictional planet Arrakis.
That’s why this stationary suit really repurposes everything you can think of. Sweat permeates the suit’s breathable inner layer and ends in the outer layers. From there it is filtered and ends up in handy bags in the pack with the tube facing outward, so you can drink the water. The same happens with urine and even feces, which goes to the pantry around the thighs, from where the water is again purified.
We have not felt the need here on earth for such an extreme solution – and to feel a bit upset. In other words, we don’t need suits, so we don’t have any. Or at least: not on a portable level.
Because although water is still usually available on Earth – no matter how much effort you sometimes have to put in to get it – it varies in space. Aboard the International Space Station, for example, every liter of water was carried upward by a rocket. This way you can easily spend a few thousand euros on fuel for a liter bottle. In other words, water is very precious, so you better be very careful with it.
And so, in a sense, the space station itself is a giant stationary suit. It absorbs moisture from the air, where it enters through astronauts’ sweat and astronauts’ breath. The station also collects urine and all water used for other purposes. It is then filtered and centrifuged (so that all the debris is drowned out) and treated in such a way that any germs that may be present are gone.
It is being tested whether the result will provide some drinkable water even before astronauts are allowed to drink it and use it again. In total, the plant recovers about 93 percent of the water in this way. The 7 percent loss might be a little more than a thimble, but it’s pretty close.
Reducing the same technology to the size of a wearable is not yet possible, but if it is really necessary, it should work. What’s even more difficult: You sweat because the evaporation of moisture cools your skin. If sweat no longer evaporates, but is instead captured directly, how do you protect yourself from overheating? Future builders must first come up with a smart answer to this.
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