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This question would be best answered for the time period of our first colonized planet, which will most likely be Mars. With the thinner atmosphere, weaker gravity, low oxygen, and the bodily damage possible from the sun, some sort of protective suit is a must outside of colony pods. But the size of current space worthy suits would hinder in-atmosphere work that requires more delicate handiwork. Not to mention, there is some kind of atmosphere, so a full-on space suite would be a tad bit overkill. So what would be the likelihood of a skintight suit designed only for Mars survival?

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    $\begingroup$ Probably very low. People don't climb Everest in skin tight clothes for a reason and those are probably the closest condition to Mars we have on Earth. $\endgroup$ – A. C. A. C. Dec 1 '17 at 19:57
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    $\begingroup$ for space and for another planet are different, in space the sun can cook you without a lot of insulation. $\endgroup$ – John Dec 1 '17 at 22:29
  • $\begingroup$ This documentary from a couple of years back covers research in that area. $\endgroup$ – kasperd Dec 2 '17 at 0:51
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    $\begingroup$ /So what would be the likely hood of a skin tight suit / Very high, if for depiction on a Cinemax channel series set on Mars. Skin tight and semi-opaque. $\endgroup$ – Willk Dec 2 '17 at 0:52
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    $\begingroup$ Duct tape and oxygen mask... however I should remind you of the decontamination process afterward 😭 $\endgroup$ – user6760 Dec 2 '17 at 3:28
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It's called a Mechanical Counter Pressure suit (MCPS). They fit and look like a divers dry suit that's two sizes too small. Check out the MIT project that is underway.

They have been a staple of sci-fi since the 1940's and were a serious contender for the Apollo space program. The airbag style suit that was settled on (and is in use to this day) was chosen purely because the effects of air pressure on a human body were known, but the effects of mechanical counterpressure in a vacuum were not. Having more experience now than the early days of the space programs to draw on, and knowing the limits of the fabrics available then, I am not convinced that their choice was wrong.

MIT Link:(http://news.mit.edu/2014/second-skin-spacesuits-0918)

Professor Dava Newman models the MIT Biosuit - from http://astronomy.com/news/2007/07/one-giant-leap-for-space-fashion:

Professor Dava Newman models the MIT Biosuit - from http://astronomy.com/news/2007/07/one-giant-leap-for-space-fashion

See also http://www.finalfrontierdesign.com/what-we-make/ . This image is a commercially produced MCP glove that has applications today.

MCP Glove produced commercially today

1949 cover from Red Planet (Heinlein) showing two teen boys in MCP suits with insulating outerwear:

1949 cover from Red Planet (Heinlein) showing two teen boys in MCP suits with insulating outer wear

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  • $\begingroup$ MCP'S were in the contention as early as Apollo, but were passed over in favor of the airbag technology because air pressure was a known quantity. Mars pressure is much closer to hard vacuum than earth's atmosphere (nowhere near 60%). Insulation with minimum atmosphere mostly co2 requires different materials than for nitro oxy mix on earth. $\endgroup$ – pojo-guy Dec 1 '17 at 20:08
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    $\begingroup$ When they are localized to particular parts of the human body, they are called girdles. $\endgroup$ – Justin Thyme Dec 2 '17 at 4:40
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    $\begingroup$ It's interesting that it is a female that is modeling it. As I have posted, females have a particular anatomical advantage over males when it comes to a correct fit. $\endgroup$ – Justin Thyme Dec 2 '17 at 19:09
  • $\begingroup$ It's her project. Also check out final frontier design. They are marketing more down to earth uses for the same technology, including military flight suits for high altitudes. $\endgroup$ – pojo-guy Dec 2 '17 at 19:18
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As a matter of fact, so-called "space activity suits" have been in development since 1959, although they haven't had a whole lot of success yet. There aren't enough advantages to the models that have been produced so far to displace the existing gas-pressure-based spacesuits.

Space activity suits work by pressing tight layers of fabric directly against the wearer's skin, rather than filling the suit with pressurized gas like current spacesuits do. In principle, this should permit much greater mobility than existing spacesuits do, but they're also much more difficult to get right and much more difficult to squeeze oneself into.

Currently, there's a project at MIT to create a space activity suit consisting of a single layer of cloth set with stretchy cords to provide pressure, but as far as I know, they haven't worked out all the kinks yet.

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    $\begingroup$ To add to that, the biggest issue faced by skintight suits is that they work by applying pressure using stretched fabric. This means that they cannot apply pressure to concave areas of the body, such as armpits, the back of the knee, or the groin. These areas therefore need either a small pocket of air, or some sort of gel material with a convex outer surface. $\endgroup$ – Skyler Dec 2 '17 at 3:08
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    $\begingroup$ Think about wrapping a knee joint in a tensor bandage. It restricts the joint movement. Now, wrap that bandage so tight, that it counters zero external pressure. Result: almost no joint movement. Now, wear the same bandage INSIDE of a pressurized habitat. The bandage really does not know what the external pressure is. The bandage applies the same pressure. Result: a lot of circulation cut off when you are inside. Part of the 'not a whole lot of success' bit. With a pressurized suit, you can adjust the pressure. With an MCPS, not so much, unless the stretch can be modified. $\endgroup$ – Justin Thyme Dec 2 '17 at 5:00
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    $\begingroup$ @ pojo-guy why do I have this image of a genetically modified male purpose-built to eliminate the crotch problem? Females, of course, not so much. But I suspect the suit will never be 'skin tight'. It would have some form of memory foam lining and padding that can be pressurized/depressurized through a network of tubes, or veins, running through it, carrying cooling/heating fluid, and perhaps made of some one-way semi-permeable membrane material (osmosis?) that will allow sweat to be absorbed and transported away. For prolonged health, the skin needs to sweat. $\endgroup$ – Justin Thyme Dec 2 '17 at 16:22
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    $\begingroup$ @JustinThyme These skintight suits (at least, some of the more recent versions) are constructed from breathable fabric, and are cooled by the user's natural perspiration. Turns out, sweat evaporates quite well in a vacuum. You can even have a square-millimeter hole in the suit exposed to vacuum for an extended period of time and be perfectly fine. $\endgroup$ – Someone Else 37 Dec 3 '17 at 4:05
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    $\begingroup$ @JustinThyme All I can say is, it's been done. I quote Wikipedia: "Extended vacuum testing [of the first generation SAS] was carried out successfully..." "Between 1968 and 1971 ten designs [of the second generation SAS] of increasing sophistication were built, leading eventually to a series of successful tests in vacuum chambers. The longest test was two hours and forty-five minutes." $\endgroup$ – Someone Else 37 Dec 3 '17 at 5:00
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MIT in cooperation with NASA is currently working on a BioSuit project. It is specifically designed for planetary exploration and relies on mechanical counterpressure. The BioSuit is made of various layers of polymers and nylons to provide necessary pressure and protection.

Mechanical counterpressure suits (MCS) are the future of space technology and they might even replace traditional gas-pressured suits since there are many advantages to getting rid of sacks filled with gas.

The existing prototypes of MCS are lightweight and do not restrict movement as much as traditional spacesuits. They also seem to be safer when it comes to tearing (no depressurisation). A new generation of materials can make them self-healing to reduce risks even further. Scientists are also looking into using alloys and special wired structures to work as exo-skeletons. Mechanical compression has an additional benefit of slowing down the bone loss process typical for low-gravity environments.

MCS also does not need as much personalisation as traditional suits. As new technologies develop it might be possible to produce 'one size fits all' versions which will significantly reduce the costs.

So, yes, it is a very viable idea.

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  • $\begingroup$ "So, yes, it is a very viable idea." If it works. Has it been tested yet in even remotely space-like conditions? $\endgroup$ – Mast Dec 2 '17 at 12:12
  • $\begingroup$ Gloves have been human tested as early as the beginnings of the Apollo program. Gloves it turns out are easy - crotches are quite difficult. That's why I'm convinced that the Apollo team had it right to go with the airbag model at the time. Things are possible with newer fabrics that weren't possible then. $\endgroup$ – pojo-guy Dec 2 '17 at 13:10
  • $\begingroup$ Women have been wearing girdles for a very, very long time. They don't have quite the same crotch problem that males do. $\endgroup$ – Justin Thyme Dec 2 '17 at 16:27
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Likely

As other have stated, MIT (and probably others) are currently working on developing one. Given a range of 10-100 years in the future (per when we'll colonize Mars), it seems very likely that we'll have a significantly less bulky suit for casual wear. Probably skin tight. Also, as stated in the question, this suit won't have to withstand insane pressures. The trickiest parts would be radiation and temperature, which seem to already be well understood. You can have a small power source to supply electrical heat, and some sort of backpack or tank for oxygen. I see no technological reason that would prevent a wetsuit-like Mars suit.

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    $\begingroup$ Radiation, pressure and other environmental effects can be remediated in part by wearing a specialized coverall over the counter pressure suit. The coveralls (or even a metallic hard shell suit of armour, if needed) can also have mounting points for pouches, tool loops and other things to allow the user to do useful things once out of the pressure dome or space ship. $\endgroup$ – Thucydides Dec 1 '17 at 22:54
  • $\begingroup$ The outer coverall would be mission specific. A polyethylene cover for particle ( radiation) or a lead lined coverall for xrays. $\endgroup$ – pojo-guy Dec 2 '17 at 13:13
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They are very viable. Look at the BioSuit via Space.com

Instead of the bulky-looking spacesuits that astronauts wear today, a group of MIT researchers want to "shrink-wrap" the spaceflyers of tomorrow. Current spacesuits could be replaced by a pressurized but skintight suit that would allow for a much better range of motion during exploration, according to scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

They now have a machine that "prints" the suit to fit the individual.

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