The universe is infinite and even for us who are on the firm ground of Earth the idea of getting stranded during a spacewalk sounds more than terrifying. The new idea emerged to scientists to implement a Take Me Home button that would help astronomers get back to their spacecraft in case they were ever to get disconnected.
The new technology called the Take me Home button which is a whole system, consisting of hardware and software which can be added to the space suit and can help the astronaut get “home.” The Take Me Home button concept is being developed, with partial NASA funding, at Draper, which is an engineering company that took part in engineering technologies for spaceflight.
NASA astronauts that are located on the International Space Station are already equipped with various tools that can help them get back to the ISS in case of an emergency, to ensure they will be safe during spacewalks. However, if they get disconnected from the Space Station, they can get back on board with the help of a jet backpack called SAFER. The SAFER boasts small thrusters that eject gas and takes the astronaut towards the direction he or she is heading. Unfortunately, it is manually controlled, which doesn’t help if they have become disoriented, and difficult to use without proper training that has to be performed on the ground using virtual reality utilities.
“You see how difficult it is to complete those operations and how much time it takes to become proficient at it,” said Kevin Duda, a space systems engineer at Draper who has been developing the “Take Me Home” button, told The Verge. “That kind of motivated us to think about how do you do that from an automatic perspective.”
The Take Me Home button would help astronomers get back without using the SAFER control box. Instead of propelling themselves using the jet pack, they would only need to press the button on their suit which would activate the system, or which could also be activated by astronauts on board the ISS who have spotted a crew member in trouble or gets disconnected from the rope, or in case the suit starts to malfunction.
Still, engineering a return system of such high-level technology is quite challenging. The most challenging part is certainly creating a navigation system which would fit to a space suit, and it unfortunately doesn’t exist. Engineers found it hard to design a navigation system as it would be hard to locate a person in space. However, Duda told The Verge that he came up with a navigation system which uses a high-resolution camera which can help find landmarks around astronauts.
The system could also be equipped with a star tracker which could help get an astronaut’s position compared to the relationship between the stars in the sky. Aside from the navigation system, Duda told The Verge that the Take Me Home button needs a guidance system, which would direct the space suit to exactly where it should go.