Morgan Stanley’s mission in developing the conceptual Access I spacesuit is to inspire more women to participate in the future of space, a burgeoning area of economic growth.
Space exploration has had a profound effect on modern society. Investments made to advance our understanding and knowledge of the final frontier have resulted in transformational discoveries in science, medicine and technology, including the creation of tiny cameras on smart phones, artificial limbs, scratch-resistant lenses and even baby formula.
Despite those significant gains, the boundlessness and potential of space haven’t translated into increased diversity among individuals participating in space missions. And one stark example has especially highlighted the barriers that still exist at the most basic level: Even though NASA has existed for more than half a century and hundreds of billions of dollars have been spent on the U.S. space program, spacesuits have historically been designed primarily for male astronauts. While NASA is actively working to address that, at present, only 17 of the 240 astronauts who have conducted spacewalks have been women.
Recognizing this critical gap and the need to imagine a more inclusive future in space, Morgan Stanley has partnered with space experts, historians and designers to create The Access I, a prototype version of a suit made to fit a broader range of bodies than existing space suits.
“We need to create a space suit that really encompasses the entire population, especially suits that fit women,” says space engineer Vinita Marwaha Madill, whose work has focused on creating more equity in the space sector. “So we’re creating a conceptual model space suit with Morgan Stanley to represent more inclusive design.”
For Morgan Stanley, the mission to design the conceptual Access I suit is to inspire more women to participate in the future of space, which represents a burgeoning area of economic growth.
“If you’re going to be in space and you want to be competitive, you want to gather the best team,” says Kristine Liwag, head of Aerospace & Defense Equities Research at Morgan Stanley. “And that should be regardless of background or gender.”
Houston, We Have a Solution
The idea of a spacesuit likely conjures images of a domed helmet with a reflective face covering and a stiff, white outer shell with various tubes connecting to a heavy pack—perhaps inspired by the indelible visuals of Neil Armstrong taking the first steps on the moon in 1969.
But spacesuits (or, more technically, extra-vehicular activity suits) are far more than bulky coveralls. They are mini human-shaped spaceships built to simulate Earth-like pressure in the vacuum of space and microgravity environments while protecting astronauts from radiation, 500-degree temperature swings and space debris. They are also equipped with integrated communications systems and mechanisms to provide oxygen and remove carbon dioxide, as well as heaters in the gloves so the astronauts can maintain dexterity in the extreme cold. The fit of these personalized life-sustaining vessels is vital to ensure that all the components work as intended and that astronauts can safely carry out their work in the severe conditions of space.
“There’s this assumption that if you’re going to space, you are going to have the very thing that you need to do your job,” says former NASA astronaut and engineer Cady Coleman. “It was a little shocking to find out, ‘We don’t have a spacesuit that fits you.’”
The Access I concept suit from Morgan Stanley includes improved joint components for better mobility and an adjustable torso component to allow fit for a range of body types. In addition, the 3-D printing of features like robotic gloves for grip precision and innovative fabrics that allow for snugger fits while maintaining necessary internal pressure will also help future development of more inclusive spacesuits.
Bringing Inclusivity to a Trillion-Dollar Opportunity
With the declining cost of technology, increased demand for data and significant uptick in private investment in space technologies, Morgan Stanley Research expects the global space industry to grow into a $1.1 trillion dollar market by 2040, from about $350 billion in 2016.
This astronomical expansion will spur new industries and create countless new jobs in space exploration itself, as well as in industries including telecommunications, technology, transportation, defense and healthcare. Morgan Stanley’s goal is to ensure that this opportunity is equally distributed. “All the inventions in space really benefit people on Earth,” says Liwag. “It’s not space for space’s sake, it’s really space for Earth.”