CAMBRIDGE, MA—A “take me home” button designed for an astronaut’s spacesuit made its way through the U.S. Patent Office and emerged a winner. The reward is a patent for Draper and distinction for three engineers who devised a system for bringing astronauts safely back to their spaceship.
The U.S. Patent Office credited Kevin R. Duda, Richard W. Loffi and Patrick Mark Handley as inventors for a “System and Method for Assisted Extravehicular Activity Self-return.”
Engineering a solution for astronauts in space wasn’t exactly easy. As Duda said when announcing the patent application, “Giving astronauts a sense of direction and orientation in space is a challenge because there is no gravity and no easy way to determine which way is up and down. Our technology improves mission success in space by keeping the crew safe.”
In addition to automatically commanding the spacesuit jetpack to fly back to the space station, the system can give the astronaut directions with a combination of visual, auditory and sensory cues through a web of sensors and a helmet visor display. If something were to happen during a spacewalk (also known as an Extravehicular Activity, or EVA) the self-return system can be initiated by the astronaut, a space station crewmember or mission control.
Duda, Loffi and Handley have worked together before, solving engineering challenges for astronauts, the International Space Station and other space systems.