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I know a similar question was asked whether gas masks could be used to survive in space but it didn't quite focus on the parts I'm interested in.

I'm building a world in which space travel is regular i.e. trips between a day to a couple of years, people living on ships permanently and city-sized space stations/ships.

I don't think people would want to wear space suits their whole life and people would prefer to risk the danger of not wearing one for many reasons like practicality and because fashion(people still ride bikes without helmets). However, there would still be a risk of decompression so I was thinking as a possible compromise that some kind of base layer could be worn that would provide some protection.

I was thinking of a two piece suit, trousers and top, worn as a base layer, that weren't necessarily air tight (I hear skin is fairly airtight) but would when exposed to vacuum constrict to provide even pressure around the body (maybe there would have to at least be air tight underwear to seal that area).

Then in the event of an emergency that leads to a loss of pressure a person could put on a nearby face mask (would have to be strapped on tight) plus maybe gloves and ear protection. The purpose of this system isn't eva. Its so that a person has time to get themselves to safety or to give someone else time to rescue them.

The closest parallel I can draw is an emergency gas mask I was provided at work which would only last about 15 minutes but could easily be worn on a shoulder strap while working unlike carrying full scuba gear all the time. (thinking about it something like that could be used for the face mask)

The questions are

  1. how would the suit work i.e materials, method of constriction.
  2. Are there any improvements you can think of or redesign considering that it still needs to allow clothes to be worn over the top
  3. how long can a person A)survive and B)stay conscious and mobile while wearing this type of protection considering if everything works out all the main holes should be sealed and an even pressure of one earth atmosphere from the neck down and on the face and ignoring air supply.
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    $\begingroup$ want to look at inflatable bike helmets while questionable as a crash helmet they may work as part of an emergency pressure helmet. $\endgroup$ – John Dec 22 '18 at 23:34
  • $\begingroup$ Welcome to Worldbuilding.SE! We're glad you could join us! When you have a moment, please click here to learn more about our culture and take our tour. Please note that the StackExchange model is one-specific-question/one-best-answer. We're lenient with newcomers, but please keep it in mind because SE is not a discussion forum. Thanks! $\endgroup$ – JBH Dec 22 '18 at 23:38
  • $\begingroup$ If the spacecraft or spacestation is "city sized" then the vast majority of people aboard have no need or use for spacesuits, except in special situations, such as, for example, when engaged in battle. $\endgroup$ – AlexP Dec 22 '18 at 23:39
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    $\begingroup$ @AlexP Normally yes; this is explicitly something for emergency use by people who might be exposed during an accident. "You don't need to go outside, so you don't need vacuum protection" is probably not going to impress future OSHA. $\endgroup$ – Cadence Dec 22 '18 at 23:41
  • $\begingroup$ One question per question, please. $\endgroup$ – Mołot Dec 23 '18 at 20:58
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For the purposes of my answer I'm going to assume that this 'suit' only needs to protect you for a short time pending rescue and doesn't ask you to actually do anything to assist with that rescue, then an emergency spacepod is your answer.

Two pieces, each with a sealing ring and basically a spaceproof sack of foldable material up against the ring that allows you to put your feet in one, pull the other over you and seal from the inside. This would be wearable as a form of light backpack, and would only take around 30 secs to put on after proper drilling. At the first sign of trouble people start putting it on, and by the time real trouble hits they're fine. You could even put a small CO2 scrubber in it so you could last a little longer in it waiting for rescue.

It would look like a small chrysalis and would render the occupant completely unable to assist you in his or her rescue, but it would be a way to stay safe over a short term period

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    $\begingroup$ Add a couple of gloves and ‘slippers’ to the outer skin and you could have very limited (shuffley-Mr-Blobby-style) mobility/utility. $\endgroup$ – Joe Bloggs Dec 23 '18 at 15:55
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What you might want is a space activity suit, a type of spacesuit designed to be low-profile, non-pressurized, and flexible. The basic principle is essentially as you describe it; it provides pressure on the skin to counteract the vacuum environment. Along with a separate air supply, it is in theory capable of sustaining a human for as long as they feel like it.

The current state of the art is the MIT Bio-Suit, which consists of a single layer of, basically, spandex. (It's still in the experimental stages, so tests of different materials are ongoing.) Cords embedded in the material provide the necessary tension. The suit is custom-fitted to each wearer to provide the greatest possible mobility. The current design calls for a separate, pressurized helmet, boots, and gloves. You could probably skimp on the gloves if you were okay with stiff mittens; the main problem there is getting the tension elements to work properly around really small joints.

Unlike what you were envisioning, the result is a single-piece, skin-tight bodysuit. You could wear normal clothes overtop it. You'd probably want to, unless going to work in your long underwear appeals to you. The helmet, gloves, and boots could be kept nearby and donned in the event of an accident, or you might put them on just in case before a potential hazard like a ship docking.

As long as you're inside and otherwise protected, you should be able to stay in the suit as long as your air supply holds out. (Or until you really need to use the restroom.) It lacks much in the way of thermal protection, so if you were thrown out into space in direct sunlight, you would be in danger of overheating. You also might want to make a provision for tethering, lest you drift away from the habitat.

The downside is, as mentioned, each suit has to be manufactured specifically for its user, so they're rather expensive and can't be provided for e.g. visitors. The upside is that the person in the suit is still active and has almost full mobility, leaving that much less for your first responders to worry about.

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    $\begingroup$ Two additions I would suggest: a pullover "hood" and a small, permanently attached unit to supply short term air and power to the suit when in an emergency. For longer term use, a sort of "coverall" to provide things like thermal insulation, a proper helmet and a full life support system backpack would be needed. For living in an under developed space structure like a colony, maybe you would always have backpack with gloves, boots, helmet and longer term air supply with you. $\endgroup$ – Thucydides Dec 23 '18 at 2:15
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Don't have it be a space suit. Instead, make it a Life Support Ball. Which is essentially I small inflatable sphere, with basic life support, to shove the person in. If they need to be able to manipulate anything, give a set of gloves or arms (these can pull double duty by allowing the person to move around) The bonus is that it allows for very little necessary training so it's perfect for civilian use!

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People on the International Space Station today wear different things for different activities.

They have one pressure suit they wear on the rocket from Earth, in case of emergency loss of air. This suit plugs in to the ship to get air and cooling in normal use, and has a small air supply for emergencies. It is not used to go outside the ship in space. In your future space society, people might only wear suits like this when they're on a ship that's currently doing something dangerous like lift-off, docking or re-entry. Or if they work in an airlock but don't go outside.

ISS astronauts have another, bulkier suit for when they need to step outside the station. This suit has more air and more heat management features, and is more resistant to damage, and is suitable for working in vacuum in full sunlight for hours.

And finally, when they're doing normal things inside the station, ISS astronauts just wear normal pants and Tshirts. Much like how sailors in a submarine don't wear SCUBA gear all the time. If a section of the station starts to leak air, they may just leave the damaged area and close it off before all the air escapes. That doesn't work in the tiny cabin of the ship that brought them from Earth, because they have less air and nowhere to go. The bigger your space station is, the less terrifying a small air leak is (at least to anyone not standing next to the hole in the hull!).

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