Built from 11 kilometres of copper and winner of TIME Best Inventions
Thrown out of supernovas billions of years ago, copper became central to the rise of civilisation, creating tools and sterilising water, before enabling modern day communication, transport, and electrical power. Used to create the earliest recorded medical tools in ancient Egypt, and the latest medical tools being developed by NASA, we built an entire jacket out of it.
The building block for the future of clothing
As we look for disease resistant materials on Earth and up in space, and a base on which to build intelligent clothing, copper is set to be at the centre of innovation again. Its ability to conduct heat and power while killing bacteria and viruses make it a potential first building block for the future of clothing.
Viruses and bacteria can’t live on copper
Copper is biostatic, so bacteria and other life forms can’t grow on it. It also has exceptional antimicrobial properties which means bacteria and viruses die when they make contact with it. The copper releases electrically charged ions which first make it difficult for a microbe to breathe, before punching holes in its outer membrane, moving in and completely wiping out its DNA, preventing it from developing any future resistance.
The Egyptians were using copper medical tools in 2200BC
Copper has been used to combat disease for thousands of years. The oldest medical tools ever discovered were made from copper 4,000 years ago, and were found entombed with the remains of Qar, a royal physician from the Sixth Dynasty in ancient Egypt. The Smith Papyrus shows that 1,000 years earlier the Egyptians were using copper to sterilise wounds and transport clean drinking water. And they weren’t alone. The Babylonians would sharpen their swords and put the copper alloy filings into cuts sustained in battle, to reduce infection and speed healing.
Now it’s NASA experimenting with copper medical devices
4,000 years after the Egyptians, NASA is exploring the use of 3D-printed copper medical instruments on long-duration space missions. One of the issues with longer missions is that astronauts can experience an altered immune response, known as Immune System Dysregulation. It’s a condition that can leave them more susceptible to infectious diseases, which can harm their performance and in turn limit human space exploration. So NASA is now testing medical instruments built from copper for the International Space Station, to help reduce the risk of infection in space.
We think about clothing as technology
Clothing is really just an extended support system for the human body. And as something that’s always attached to us, it’s uniquely suited to solving some of the simplest as well as most complex questions that will arise as we go intergalactic. It will become our breathing system, our doctor, sleep aid, source of comfort, food and hydration.
Designing for deep sleep in deep space
However advanced we become, the human body needs rest and sleep in order to function at a high level. And this will become even more critical as we travel into deep space. But when you’re trapped in an environment you can’t control – like a multi-billion-dollar sardine can heading to Mars – sleep is going to get difficult. Designed for physical and psychological comfort in inhospitable places, the Deep Sleep Cocoon is a self-contained microhabitat that mimics adaptive, protective structures including the exoskeleton of woodlice and cocoons spun by moths and caterpillars.
Why deep sleep matters
We’re making prototype clothing for space travel with a simple mission – to create the optimum state for someone to be able to perform successfully in space. Sleep is as critical as food, water and air. It helps restore the body’s immune, nervous, skeletal and muscular systems, and these in turn maintain your mood, memory and cognitive function. This restoration takes place mostly during deep sleep, when your body temperature, heart rate and brain’s oxygen consumption decrease. Sleep deprivation on the other hand shortens your attention span, increases anxiety and impairs your memory.
The harsh realities of sleeping in space
When Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin climbed back onto the Eagle to return to Earth after the moon landing, sleep was out of the question. The noise of pumps filled their tiny cabin, bright warning lights couldn’t be dimmed, and even the window shades were glowing as intense sunlight shot through them. While closing their space helmets shut out the noise, it activated the cooling systems that had been vital on the moon’s surface but now kept them too cold to sleep. The sleeping conditions we take for granted on Earth, like quiet and darkness, are far from guaranteed in space.
Astronauts on the International Space Station experience 16 sunrises a day
Alongside eye masks and earplugs every ISS crew member has a cupboard-sized sleeping pod with a sleeping bag fixed to the wall with a bungee cord to combat microgravity and air currents. The onboard lighting produces different light spectra, from daytime light, to blue-enriched light to increase alertness or shift circadian rhythms, and blue-depleted light for before sleep. Despite this, 75% of crew report using sleeping pills which induce sedation rather than deep sleep. And this impacts cognitive ability and alertness in space, where there’s little room for error.
Sleep deprivation on the journey to Mars
Any crew heading to Mars or beyond face hundreds of consecutive days in isolation and outside of Earth’s rhythm of day and night. In 2010 the Mars-500 Mission sealed six participants in an isolation chamber in Russia for 520 days to simulate a full mission. Four of the six developed sleeping problems, and the one who suffered the most chronic sleep deprivation was singled out as being responsible for the majority of mistakes made on tests used to measure concentration and alertness. The risk of accidents in a real-life situation with a ship millions of miles from Earth is of course much higher.