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This fabric inspired from spacesuits is keeping racers cool, improve lap time

India Today logo India Today 15-06-2021 India Today Web Desk
a train on a track with smoke coming out of it: Nascar Nascar

From driving at over 300 kilometres per hour to lifting off from the surface while sitting on thousands of gallons of rocket fuel, the difference can not be starker between an astronaut and a NASCAR driver. However, the one thing common is surviving the intense heat of the engines propelling you forward.

The technology used to keep astronauts cool is finding more and more use in the racing circuit as companies strive to provide the best of all things for drivers to keep them safe while cruising at high speeds. Several National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing (Nascar) racers are wearing clothes made from a heat-stabilising material originally designed to keep astronauts comfortable on spacewalks.

Researchers have designed flame-resistant underwear fabric for racers that have improved their lap time, lower core temperature and steady heart rate.

Andrew J. Feustel wearing sunglasses driving a car © Provided by India Today
Endurance racers with specialized cars have reported successes with the phase-change underwear, with racers driving over 500 miles and reducing sweat rates by up to 40 per cent. (Photo: Nasa)

Designing phase-change material

The undergarments used by drivers in Nascar racing this season is a result of Nasa's attempt to design glove material that will help maintain a steady, comfortable temperature for astronauts. The spacesuits have to withstand temperature swings 250 degrees above and 250 degrees below zero Fahrenheit. The phase-change materials were used to design these gloves that are now finding use in undergarments for race drivers.

Also Read: Astronaut Raja Chari's Crew-3 mission to Space Station delayed, Nasa-SpaceX revise launch dates

"The phase-change material absorbs and releases heat through basic characteristics of matter. As surrounding temperatures rise, the heat the material absorbs melts it from solid to liquid," Nasa said in a statement. The temperature is maintained at a melting point in the material that was incorporated into the synthetic fibre insulating material to be inserted in gloves. While the gloves never made it to orbit, the engineers had been working on the design for years.

© Provided by India Today
Spacesuit gloves have to be both dexterous enough to use tools and insulating enough to protect against the temperature extremes of working in space. (Photo: Nasa)

Incorporating design in racing world

Race cars, hurtling on the surface at over 300 kilometres per hour, are a hot zone of burning fuel, rubber and tarmac. A blink of an eye can lead to victory and loss and is the difference between a podium finish or a catastrophic accident. Therefore, companies are striving to provide more and more comfort to the drivers, who are enclosed in a car where temperatures reach up to 50 degrees Celsius.

Also Read: China to send 3 astronauts to its under-construction space station for three months in June

Amateur racer Fiona James used the phase-change material and bonded it with another fire-retardant material to design underwear for race car drivers that showed better performance due to heat control within the suit.

a group of men racing on a track © Provided by India Today
A pit stop during the NASCAR Xfinity Series' Alsco Uniforms 250 at Texas Motor Speedway. (Photo: Getty)

In a bid to test the fabric, the researchers exposed drivers to high temperatures while they drove virtual laps in a simulation. "In the tests with phase-change materials, the driver had a lower core temperature and heart rate and made fewer mistakes behind the wheel. The overall result was a faster, more consistent lap time, with no engineering changes to the vehicle," Nasa said in a statement.

The new fabric could find more and more usage in the future, especially in Formula-1 where the speed is faster, and the risk is higher.

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