Self-Returning Spacesuit Could Solve an Astronaut’s Worst Nightmare

If only Sandra Bullock had a 'Take Me Home' button

December 5, 2017 9:00 am

The biggest deterrent to potential astronauts used to be the thought of rogue artificial intelligence. Now, it’s coming untethered on a spacewalk and cartwheeling into the abyss.

While little baby Hals are already finding their way to homes across the world (under the name Alexa), the latter problem has a potential solution: a “self-return” spacesuit feature that would automatically navigate astronauts back to their space station.

The Charles Stark Draper Laboratory, Inc. (also known as Draper) is behind the technology, which it announced last week along with the news that a patent has been filed. They’re calling it a “take me home” button.

“The system can operate the jet pack autonomously or give the astronaut directions with a combination of visual, auditory and sensory cues through a web of sensors and a helmet visor display,” says Draper’s press release. “If something were to happen during a spacewalk … the self-return system can be initiated by the astronaut, a space station crewmember or mission control.”

Funded by NASA, this research hopes to provide a much needed safety net for future astronauts. But Draper also notes the technology could help firefighters, skydivers and scuba divers. And for all you permanently grounded earthlings, it’ll give you peace of mind the next time you watch Gravity.

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