Space glove for NASA

The Archivist: Helping NASA Reach for the Stars

In 1983, nine WPI students along with their faculty advisors traveled to Washington, D.C., to share their prototype for a new space glove with 70 NASA administrators, scientists, and engineers. WPI was one of four schools to appear, after being selected from a nationwide challenge issued by NASA and sponsored by the American Association for Engineering Education (AAEE).

Students were challenged to design a space glove that could both withstand 8 psi and permit astronauts to retain the manual dexterity needed to complete complex tasks. Prior space suits used in extravehicular activity were pressurized only to about 4.3 psi. At this lower pressure, astronauts underwent lengthy decompression procedures upon their return to the space shuttle to prevent decompression sickness.

With a grant award of $30,000, WPI faculty organized a Major Qualifying Project team of 11 students under overall project director Professor William R. Durgin. The primary requirement of the glove was the ability to grasp a 1 ½” diameter cylinder. The WPI team instead chose to design a glove that could pass not only that test, but also other tasks that functioned for all six grasping patterns: cylindrical grasp, tip, hook, palmar, spherical grasp, and lateral. The MQP team designed various tests for each of these patterns and tested them in a custom pressurized tube.

NASA officials, impressed with innovation shared by the students, invited the MQP team along with fellow finalists from MIT, Oklahoma State, and Kansas State to Cape Canaveral to experience a shuttle launch as VIP guests. Now housed in the WPI Archives, the prototype glove is one of WPI’s many contributions to space exploration and innovation.

Andrea Gallant

Andrea D. Gallant ’85 was a member of a team of WPI students who designed and built a prototype of a new space glove for a design competition sponsored by NASA.

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