NASA’s High Performance EVA Glove Development Program

Prototype outer glove protective layer. (Credit: NASA)
Prototype outer glove protective layer. (Credit: NASA)

NASA Fact Sheet
Space Technology Game Changing Development
Next Generation Life Support: High Performance EVA Glove

NASA’s future missions involve deep space exploration to places where humans have not gone before. This poses many new challenges for which the existing astronaut extravehicu­lar activity (EVA) gloves are not designed. Current gloves are limited to use outside the International Space Station where the environment is relatively pristine and free from the debris and dust present in lunar, planetary and asteroid environments. Thermal conditions may also vary and require different technological approaches to ensure that the astronauts are protected. In addition to environmental differences that may necessitate design changes to the glove, hand injuries are one of the most common injuries that astronauts face. Over the past two decades, gloves have accounted for 47% of all reported injuries. While gloves have been modified over the years to address these issues, they are due for a full redesign.

The objectives of the High Per­formance EVA Glove task are to develop advanced EVA gloves for future human space exploration missions and generate corresponding standards by which progress may be quantitatively assessed. New tecnologies and manufacturing techniques will be incorporated into the new gloves to address finger and hand mobility, injury reduction and durability in non­ pristine environments.

Knot tying dexterity test. (Credit: NASA)
Knot tying dexterity test. (Credit: NASA)

Three prototypes will be devel­oped, each focusing on different technological advances. A robotic assist glove will integrate a powered grasping system into the current EVA glove design to reduce astronaut hand fatigue and hand injuries. A mechanical counter pressure (MCP) glove will be developed to further explore the potential of MCP technology and assess its capability for countering the effects of vacuum or low pressure environments on the body by using compression fabrics or materials to apply the necessary pressure. A gas pressurized glove, incorporating new technologies, will be the most flight-like of the three prototypes. Advancements include the development and integration of aerogel insulation, damage sensing components, dust repellant coatings, and dust tolerant bearings.

The development of quantitative standards and protocols will help standardize the methods by which human glove performance and injury potential are assessed. These standards will allow the establishment of baseline state of the art glove performance metrics against which HPEG prototypes and future glove development efforts can be measured.

Thermal testing of a candidate glove layup. (Credit: NASA)
Thermal testing of a candidate glove layup. (Credit: NASA)

A glove performance testing protocol was developed to enable consistent testing and data collection among the many iterations and variations of prototype designs that occur throughout the development process. The tests include the evaluation of factors such as comfort, dexterity, fatigue, fit, mobility, strength, and tactility.

As glove designs evolve to protect astronauts in new environments, methods for collecting and analyzing data are being created. Thermal properties of materials are evaluated for extreme high and extreme low temperatures at different environmental pressures.

To ensure that the gloves are durable enough to withstand harsher environments, testing is done to determine the effects of dust exposure on glove materials and bearings.

Material abrasion due to lunar simulant (dust) exposure. (Credit: NASA)
Material abrasion due to lunar simulant (dust) exposure. (Credit: NASA)

Studies are also being conducted to determine the causes of hand injuries and to elucidate potential solutions. A suite of sensors has been developed and is being used to collect data on the condition of the gloved hand while performing typical astronaut tasks. The results of the tests will provide information that can be used to design gloves that are less likely to cause injury.

At the project’s completion, all research and developed standards will be documented to support further development of advanced EVA gloves for human exploration. Prototypes that reach an acceptable level of maturity will be included in integrated tests with the next generation space suit currently being developed by NASA’s Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate (HEOMD).

The Game Changing Development (GCD) Program investigates ideas and approaches that could solve significant technological problems and revolutionize future space endeavors. GCD projects develop technologies through component and subsystem testing on Earth to prepare them for future use in space. GCD is part of NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate.

For more information about GCD, please visit http://gameon.nasa.gov/

  • DTARS

    Shouldn’t hands be robotic?
    Wouldn’t you have a hand extension where you hand is inside your arm in a glove and you just move your finger naturally to move the robot hand. That way your fingers are safe. Couldn’t your glove even apply pressure on your hand so you would know when robot hand touched something? you need to design something like that to solve the fat finger pressure problems anyway?
    Call Iron Man.

  • therealdmt

    A mechanical counter pressure glove (like an advanced skin tight wetsuit glue) would also solve the fat finger pressure problem.

    If that can’t be worked out, then maybe an advanced robotic hand could be the way to go, as you suggest (especially in situations where a human hand might get crushed or otherwise damaged!). Maybe one with haptic feedback so one could get a tactile respond similar to what an ungloved hand might provide in a shirtsleeves environment.

  • Hug Doug

    The problem is that mechanical graspers are nowhere near as dextrous as a human hand, the astronaut would be limited to whatever function had been built in. The idea of mechanical graspers or tools on spacesuits instead of gloves has been around since the 50s, and had been in use in pressurized diving suits for decades prior to that (and they are still used on pressurized diving suits today). The benefit of having the utility of dextrous, multi-function graspers which requires no training to use (that is, our human hands) is why spacesuits have gloves.

  • windbourne

    Take them to the South Pole and see how they do. Seriously, they have to withstand cold, so, these should be very solid in protection.

  • windbourne

    well, that is why I was suggesting sensors on the outside, with actuators on the inside. Let the fingers feel a bit more, without exposure.

  • Hug Doug

    Why go all the way to Antarctica when there’s such a thing as a freezer? Besides that, the temperature of the glove is less of a problem than the vacuum is, the gloves only get cold when the wearer is in shadow, which is why the gloves currently have heaters.

  • windbourne

    Because, all it costs is the gloves to have them tested. I believe, these are also being looked at for those on the moon or Mars. Correct?

  • Hug Doug

    Yeah, that’s exactly my point. The costs of testing a glove in a lab are far less than shipping it to Antarctica for testing. Bonus: the lab allows for controlled conditions, i.e. they could simulate the Moon or Mars in a lab, but they can’t do that in Antarctica.