Russian Scientists Are Building a Motorcycle For Outer Space

Tuesday, 06 February 2018 - 7:07PM
Space
Technology
Tuesday, 06 February 2018 - 7:07PM
Russian Scientists Are Building a Motorcycle For Outer Space
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The Russian space agency Roscosmos has recently detailed plans from Russian scientists who have been hoping to build a "motorcycle" for use by astronauts in outer space.

The motorcycle doesn't look anything like the kinds of bikes in use on Earth; for one thing, this vehicle doesn't have wheels, which are a fairly important part of traditional motorbikes. Instead, astronauts would sit in a harnessed flight craft which would rest around their waist, and which would then propel them about in zero gravity. This would be a fairly useful device for space walks, should Russia ever manage to crack the secret to making their motorbike a reality.

The space motorcycle has hit something of a snag, and production has been incredibly, painfully slow. This isn't by any stretch of the imagination a new idea - Russian scientists have been working on the design on and off since the 1960s. It's one of those examples that come up regularly in technology, in which a team of experts works on a design for so long that by the time they start making progress, they've already been overtaken by others with a similar idea.



Floating in space is no fun when you're unable to maneuver, and as Russia pushed forward with the space race, it was clear that the country's astronauts would need a way to keep themselves mobile even when outside of spaceships. This led to the first attempts at creating a space motorcycle that would give the Russians a greater ability to move around autonomously without the fear of being stranded out of reach of their spacecraft, as is likely the greatest nightmare of anyone who's ever seen Gravity.

After a few years of work, though, the motorcycle design didn't seem to be going anywhere, and it was quietly shelved. For the moment, Russian astronauts could get by with the low-tech solution of simply tethering themselves to their ships while in space, and the idea of an autonomous craft didn't look like it was going to be very useful just yet.

A couple of decades later, in the 1980s, another team attempted to revise and rework the concept using new technology. Now, the device, renamed the Manned Maneuvering Unit (MMU), looked even less like a motorcycle, as a kind of jetpack that the astronauts could wear in space.

Again, though, this didn't ever quite work out, and while some of these devices were sent up into space, they never proved popular - the astronauts simply weren't willing to go out onto the hull of a space station without a tether.



Ultimately, the Russians have ended up using NASA-designed Simplified Aid For EVA Rescue (SAFER) units, which do the job somewhat better, and which have become standard equipment for work aboard (and outside of) the International Space Station.

That said, this week Roscosmos has insisted that eventually the original space motorcycle will be perfected. Apparently, some scientists are still working on this design, and given another twenty or thirty years, who knows? The space motorbike might just take off, both figuratively and literally.

That said, for the moment, it's probably safe to say that modern space suits and SAFER units are far more effective. It's probably not worth holding your breath (again, figuratively or literally) for a space motorcycle when better technology exists.
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