Transcript: Space4U podcast, Kavya Manyapu  

Written by: Space Foundation Editorial Team

Thank you for joining us on this Space4U podcast. My name is Colleen Parith with the Space Foundation. And today we are joined by Dr. Kavya. Manyapu a Boeing engineer, Dr. Kavya Manyapu is a space scientist working in flight crew operations and testing for the CST-100 star liner spacecraft. She is also a space test lead for the star liners upcoming pad abort test in white sands, New Mexico.


She serves as a mission evaluation room duty officer. For the international space station. Dr. Manyapu holds a Bachelor of Science in aerospace engineering from Georgia Institute of technology, a master of science in aeronautics and astronautics from MIT. She received her doctorate degree in aerospace sciences from the university of North Dakota, where she worked on novel, which recently had its patent approved on the next generation space suit technologies.


For future planetary missions. Dr. Manyapu currently serves as the regional officer for the United nations organizations called space generation advisory council. She is passionate about human space exploration with a belief in the universal applicability of space research for the betterment of our planet.


Thank you so much for joining us today, Dr. Monica, thank you for calling. It’s great to be talking to you. Wonderful. Well, to start off with, um, you know, I was really wondering with space, something that you were interested as a kid. Did you have someone who inspired you? Um, yes, I should say I’ve always been, um, a space nerd, uh, ever since I could.


Imagine, I think, I think go back to when I was three years old, staring up at the sky, I grew up in India and, uh, almost every day, my dad, uh, my mom and I used to spend our nights up in the, you know, up on the Paris. We had that convenience there. Um, and pretty much, you know, looked at the stars and I used to have.


So many questions about what’s out there, um, in the skies, I guess, you know, the curiosity and the passion I had for just knowing what’s out, there was a few fueled by, uh, actually my dad used to pretty much answer every question I used to have. I had questions like, are there sharks in the moon? Are there.


Stores. And you can imagine the kind of question three or four year old would ask. And we even talked about things like time travel when I was five years old and it always, always intrigued me. And I’m really grateful for parents like that who spends the time and. And, uh, you know, took time and patience.


He answered the questions that I had, so that passion kind of continued. And as I grew up, my parents always told me that, you know, whatever, no matter whatever you pick, um, you need to be good at math and science and that kind of thing. I was like, okay, whatever I do. And that’s going to probably be something going into space and working in space.


And that kind of was always in the back of my mind. And so, um, You know, a few years down the line here, I am working on literally a dream project, I should say, uh, where I get to develop the next generation spacecraft. And, you know, just being part of something bigger for humanity and, you know, just solving the grand list of challenges, I guess, what a wonderful story.


I mean, just to, you know, have that dream as a kid and then to be able to follow that through as an adult. So it’s so great that your parents were so supportive and. Gave you those tools of science and math are so important from a young age. Now you helped design the Boeing space suit for the astronauts who are going to fly on the CST 100 Starliner spacecraft.


Can you tell us some of the features of this space suit? Yeah. So actually, when you think about spaces, that’s the first image that, you know, actually, when you think about human space exploration in general, the first thing that comes to your mind is basically it’s such an iconic image, human space flight.


And when you actually dive deep into designing a space suit, it’s actually, it’s kind of a battle between providing protection and providing, you know, the mobility to astronauts. Need. And so with our spaces that we designed for the Starliner capsule, we actually, um, took lessons from previous, you know, experience from varying suits, from previous missions.


And, uh, we’ve come up with, uh, an innovative Bay or. Building a lightweight, more comfortable, simple yet innovative space suit. One of the nice features about our spacesuits is it’s, you know, 40% lighter than previous space suits. Um, it’s lighter, most flexible, um, and we’ve incorporated, uh, advanced materials as well into the suits.


The other nice feature about our suit is the helmet and the visor. When you actually look at our suits, I like to call it a hoodie. We actually have a podium or suit. Uh, previous suits actually used to have what they call the neck ring. And the helmet actually attaches to this neck ring. And the neck ring itself is kind of bulky.


And in order to keep the spacesuits feels the next news to have. Call the next step. So you could see lossy B space spacesuit from, you know, so you can maintain the pressure. When you look at our suit, we actually don’t have a neck down. We have this really simple feature, the helmet I said simple, but a lot of thought of innovation.


One can do it. This helmet actually just falls off as like a regular hoodie in your, on your jacket. And anytime you need it, do just flip it open and zip it up. And that’s a great way to remove a lot of the extra weight that goes into building the spaces. Um, so that’s one of the reasons why our space, it also weighs lighter.


We also have. Touch screen sensitive gloves. I mean, with the age of, you know, a touchscreen, that’s not born my phones and tablets, et cetera. Um, we are incorporating new technology into our spacecraft. So we are providing the capability for our astronauts to utilize tablets using these touch screen gloves.


And also we actually make our spacesuits to accommodate a range of various sizes. And we kind of look at these as in the size range of fifth percentile, female to 95th percentile male in very simple terms. It’s like you fit in, you know, as many sizes and weights as possible into the spacer. That’s incredible.


And that’s actually one of the questions I was going to ask you about because spacesuits have changed so much over the years, you know, we had the shiny silver suits and we’ve had the orange ones from the shuttle era. And you’ve mentioned that this one is substantially lighter. Are there other ways that this suit varies from something the Apollo astronauts would have worn 50 years ago?


Yeah. So, um, a little background on, uh, spacesuits, when you think about spaces, the first thing that comes to mind is the white space suits, especially the images from the Apollo. Um, mission. Uh, actually there are just like, we have so many different types of, you know, costumes and on one group they’re actually different types of spaces also.


Um, and I’d like to categorize spacesuits into three different categories. The first being launch and entry spaces, and these spaces are actually worn by astronauts. Just during launch. And then when they come back, um, you know, to earn during entry, once they’re on space stations, in our case, they’re not wearing the space suits when they have to step out and actually perform space walks, you wear different kinds of spacesuits, and those are called the microgravity suits.


And that’s kind of the image we usually have when we talk about space suits. These are the bigger. Much more bulky, uh, you know, often the white suits that you see, those are the microgravity suits and you need that bulk in them and the life support because they’re out doing, you know, out venturing in space, doing a lot of space walks and, you know, in case of space station assembling and fixing the space station.


And so you need a lot more protection and then you have third type of spaces that are Apolo Ash, not school, which were. Basically builds to be utilized on the surface of the moon, rare locomotion or mobility in terms of, you know, being able to work also becomes very important. So those are the planetary spacesuits that recalled, um, in our case.


The star line of spacesuit is actually a launch and entry suit. And when you compare this to the policy, their policy, where they didn’t have a separate suit for launch and entry, they pretty much wore the same suit during launch. And when they went on, you know, when they landed on the moon and then they had these additional features on the suit and a license.


System to help them perform spacewalk. So in that sense, our spacesuit is very different from the policies. Uh, you can compare our suits to, uh, something that the spatial astronauts wore. For example, you know, the orange suits are fondly called as the pumpkin suits. Those are the launch and entry suits.


And when you compare it to those suits, you know, they, those are kind of a good apples to apples comparison. Uh, our students. The lighter. Uh, and again, it’s, it’s been designed by the same company that designed the special suits. Uh, we’ve been collaborating with David Clark and company who had experienced in designing since, since you know, um, the space flight, human space flight again.


So our suit is the next step in the evolution of it. The space suits, um, and it kind of lays the foundation for the next generation of spacesuits. And there was a lot of lessons learned that went into developing our suits and, uh, coming up with innovative ways to reuse the mask, provide more mobility and comfort to the astronauts when they’re in the suits and also be able to perform the tasks that they need to when they’re in the suits to accomplish the mission.


Absolutely cause there’s a lot that astronauts are, you know, required to do. It’s not just sitting in the capsule and, you know, being shot up while they’re going. There’s, there’s a lot of tasks that are required of them. So it’s, it’s nice to see that they can have some comfort along with that functionality that’s required.


Now are all of the features of the suit solely about functionality. Is there any other kind of message within the suit? When we talk about, uh, I’ll start with functionality. So the major. Role of the space suit or the Starliner space or any launch in entry space here is basically it acts as an emergency backup to the spacecraft, my support system for the astronauts.


So, you know, we’ve often hear when we sit on an airplane, you have the air crew provide us instructions on if those cabins leak, you know, pull down your oxygen mask. So basically the space suit is acting the same way and. In case of a cabin leak, uh, in a spacecraft, but now you need not just an oxygen mask, but you need, uh, an entire suit that protects your entire body, um, when you’re in space, um, because once you’re exposed to vacuum, it’s not a good day.


So that’s the main functionality of the spacesuit. But at the same time, once, you know, if you do have a cabin emergency scenario, you have a cabin deep breaths happening, and the suit actually pressurize it. The astronauts it’s actually, the suit becomes kind of rigid and it’s hard for the astronauts to move around, but they still have things that they need to perform in an emergency scenario.


So providing the mobility and the ability for them to move, you know, go and push buttons or, um, flip the switches and do the things they need is very important. So from a functionality standpoint, we’ve taken care of everything. Is it required to protect the astronauts from emergency situations? Um, from a messaging standpoint, I guess our suit really kind of portrays the next generation of spacesuits.


And I said, it’s an evolution while. We’ve had so much experience in space like Boeing, as well as David Clark of the suit, a space of design company that they’ve taken all the improvements over the years and they’ve taken the next leap into coming up with innovative designs. And actually, you know, um, I kind of look at spacesuits as also.


You know, it’s like a fashion statement, right? I mean, we want our assets to look anytime you think about an astronauts or a space of company of mine, it’s, you know, it’s like a superhero. Um, but I guess it kind of gives that image, uh, when you look at the new suits and you know, as much as you want to think it as a superhero, you also want to provide those.


Capabilities to increase the human potential to do what they can and accomplish, um, a space slide, I guess it kind of tells that story when you look at the series. Very, very cool. Another, um, kind of question about the design a little bit, you know, we see you as you talk about the evolution and kind of the future of human space flight.


There’s so many different. You know, science fiction, movies and books, where we get visualizations of what astronauts wear, whether it be in a capsule or on another planet, have movies or science fiction influenced the design of the suit at all. So I would say in general, I think science fiction gives us.


That opportunity to think beyond and just to step outside of the box. And they’ve always been an inspiration for us for, you know, innovative technologies and in our, in, in, in case of our suits, while, you know, there, there may not have been a direct influence of a particular character. Um, you know, it’s just the inspiration of, you know, when you look at Marsh and for example, the movie.


You know, that suit looks so light. And when you compare that and you actually look at the Apollo mission suits, I mean, it was definitely bulky, right? When you compare it to the Marsh and sweet, so you always want to get inspired and you’re like, how could I come up with something so steep? And so there’s definitely some, uh, inspiration from science fiction movies.


Uh, I cannot like specifically point out and say, Hey, this is the character that we’ve based off of, but, you know, Um, we’ve learned a lot of lessons, uh, and you know, we have astronauts here in Houston who also come in and provide their valuable input, uh, having different types of spaces and it has come a long way in how.


The evolution of the space suit has happened by the time we got to our Starliner space, actually, uh, I should definitely mention that if you haven’t looked at it, please go look at our boots. They are really awesome. Uh, we actually collaborated with Reebok and. I mean, a lot of my friends when we first unveiled a suit, that’s the first thing that they messaged like, Oh my God, the boots are so cool.


They’re only like two pounds of pair. And I wish I had something like that when I go mountaineering. I mean, those boots are really, I haven’t seen boots like that before on a space suit. So they’re really, that is fantastic. And it’s funny because. So many people that you’ll talk to find that science fiction, you know, inspires them to get into space and to do these types of jobs.


And so I think it’s a little fitting that there’s, you know, some influence, even from that, those works to influence, you know, what they were. So now this is, this is our big question for you. Why is it blue? Great question. Well, I think the color blue is so fitting and an easy choice for Boeing. If you think about it, um, you know, it actually supports our Boeing heritage in space life, our attributes.


In safety, uh, effort, ability and reliability, symbolical strength, and of course a pioneering future. So that was an easy choice for us before our Starliner space. Fantastic. Yeah. And I mean, when we think of space, I think most people tend to think of kind of that blue tone of when we look to the sky, even during the day, it’s got the beautiful, bluish color.


So even though this is a little bit of a darker blue. Um, it really does have a lot of those features to it. Yeah. And when you, when you actually think about, you know, Boeing being in the sky for the last hundred years, our hope and vision is we’ll be in the space life, what you need for beyond the next hundred years.


So it’s kind of fitting. Absolutely. That’s so cool. Now you mentioned again like that, it. It’s much, much lighter than a suits have been in the past. Is that because of any of the materials that went into making it, are there different materials in this suit than suits that have been made previously? So there’s, it’s actually a combination of several things.


Um, the first thing, as I mentioned, we don’t have this next dam, which is a metallic piece that kind of. No adds to the weight and because we don’t have it, you got rid of that kind of weight. The way the helmet is made. We don’t have a hard helmet. It’s a soft helmet and still yet provides the protection that you need.


Our boots. As I mentioned, like when you look at previous launch and entry space suits, astronauts have wearing these black heavy boots, leather boots, steel toed boots, uh, in our case, Literally like two pounds of pear the materials themselves, you know, the way that the suit is made, it’s very minimalistic.


Yes. Provides the protection you need. So it’s a combination of a lot of things and are, they don’t have to wear this additional. Cooling garment inside the suit, uh, that also reduces the weight as well. So it’s a combination of several different things and we’ve tried to make it as simple. Yes, yes.


Enhance the performance of the suit to provide the protection it needs to now knowing that this project was going to be a part of space history. And as you mentioned before, you know, this is the kind of the future of space suit. How did it feel to be told that you were going to help design this next generation space suit?


Well, can I say it’s like a dream come true, I guess. Um, you know, uh, I started on the Starliner, um, right out of college and seeing, you know, first of all, being able to work on a program like this, where we actually haven’t designed a. Human spacecraft in the last 30 years and getting that opportunity and seeing it from its inception to, to now, like literally going from PowerPoint design to actually touching the hardware and testing and operating and working with our Ashcon.


You know, I couldn’t ask for anything better. It’s like definitely a dream come true. Sometimes I still like look up at the sky. The moon always inspired me. I look at the moon and I’m like pinching myself and like, Hey, I’m going to really do it. You know? Uh, I know I looked, I stared at you every single day when I was three, four years old.


And I’m looking at the same wound now, but. Look, you know what I’m getting to do, you know, one step closer. So it’s a privilege and an honor and a dream come true. That is so fantastic. We’ve talked a little bit about, um, you know, the, this suit’s going to be designed for astronauts who are not going to be doing this space walks or anything like that, that there are some differences and walking on the moon and that sort of thing.


Would alterations be possible for this suit, for it to go to the moon or to Mars? Or would that be a completely different design? Um, it would need to be a different design, uh, just because the, the environments that you will be exposed to, you know, beyond Lords orbit would be different in terms of radiation.


And then, you know, when you’re out, venturing, for example, if you’re, if you’re going to Mars, for example, and you need to get out and. Perform some kind of, you know, vehicle maintenance you need, you know, the microgravity type of suits. So this suit, uh, has been specifically built for launch and entry suits, launch an entry capability, I should say.


And on that topic of Mars, um, we’re going to shift just a little here in a BBC interview. You mentioned that it would be awesome and. Spiring to how they woman take the first step on Mars. And you wouldn’t mind volunteering for that. What do you find most intriguing about humans going to the red planets?


So I would say this, I mean, it’s not just about going to the red planet, but, uh, you know, I think just being human. When you look up to the sky, you cannot stop, but wonder, you know, what’s out there. I guess this constant curiosity, being a human, being this constant itch to go explore it exists. I don’t know about you, but for me, it’s like you what’s out there like every single day, you know, I’m constantly thinking about it and I love exploring.


And so it just makes it a natural step into space exploration that we would go explore the red planet. And more than that, I mean, as a kid, it was the exploration, this passion for knowing what’s out there. And as I grew and now. You know, when I grew up, I would say it’s also, you know, when you learn about all the awesome things and the benefits that we reap from space exploration, for the betterment of our own planet of our own, you know, humanity, it just makes that longing even more, um, strong that we need to go explore and we need to go do this so we can have.


You know, a better planet here and you know, better life then I guess you mentioned it comes down to every human being is constantly pursuing wellbeing and, you know, space exploration helps us do that. So when are you applying to become an astronaut then? Um, So, I guess I put in my application when I was three years old, but of course I, I told the moon that, Hey, I’m going to come visit you one day.


Uh, on a serious note, I did apply to be an astronaut twice so far. Um, the last time I applied, we have 18,000 odd applicants. I was, I was actually shocked, but I made it to the top hundred, which is the, my fine list. And, um, when could interview, so we’ll see. I’ll probably reapply again and we’ll see what happens.


Definitely. So the congratulations that even the top 100, that’s fantastic. I know that was a record breaker for the most people who had applied. And I’ll admit, I thought about applying, but it’s like, well, there’s no way I’d get it. So I regret not doing it a little bit. So kudos to you. And you know, I know some of the most well-known astronauts.


Had to apply several times. So I don’t think any of us would be shocked in a few years to hear your name added to that list. Thank you very much. Now you were actually a flight engineer, um, for the Mars desert research station for expedition one Oh two and one 41. Can you tell us a little bit about those experiences?


Yeah, so, um, I had. Really neat opportunity to participate in Mars, desert research station, the MDRs, and actually another simulation as well here at NASA Johnson space center. They’re pretty much like for 15 to 20 days, you are, you know, for MDRs, it’s basically a habitat in the middle of, I’d like to call it nowhere.


It was in the middle of it. Utah, uh, where you, you are selected as part of a crew international crew and you go there and, um, the selection of the crews based on, you know, the type of experiments and technology development you’d like to perform. And each of the crew members has a specific background. And they bring in experiments for the future of space technology, develop the space technology and test it.


But the nice thing about it is it gives us an opportunity to stay in that habitat as if you are simulating living on Mars and conducting your experiments. So it gives you a very realistic view of what it is like to be in the middle of nowhere, because that’s how it’s going to be when you’re on the red planet.


And we had to actually assimilate varying spaces. Every time we stepped out of the habitat, we had specific schedules to follow. Uh, we had, you know, we had exploration mission, like a spacewalk, I should say, as part of the mission. We also simulated a communication gap between talking between the crew and our mission support who were actually around the world, helping the crew get to the mission itself.


So it was a very, I mean, it was a very unique opportunity because, you know, you’re designing these technologies for extreme environments. And when you sit at your cube and you’re designing these things, you don’t really understand the kind of constraints or you won’t have the appreciation for the kind of constraints asphalts would face on such missions.


And so getting to participate in these simulations gave, you know, an appreciation for, Oh my God, this is how it’s going to be. So I need to go back and rethink how I’m either designing or operating. The machines or, you know, the technology that we’re developing. So that was an amazing experience. And another one that I got to do here at NASA, um, it was basically simulation going to an asteroid.


And so we were locked up in this habitat. And basically it was an isolation study on how the technologies that can need to perform a deep space exploration mission. And so we had these like cameras all around, but at the same time, you’re actually going through and performing very similar duties, kind of the schedule that ISS as shots have on board, you’re doing experiments.


You have vehicle maintenance. You know, I was part of a crew of four people and. You know, you get there. There’s a lot of simulations going on too. We’re testing a lot of new technologies for the space exploration and, you know, just, if you can imagine being in a tin can for, you know, even three days, right?


Imagine that you need to spend three years in a tin can, but four or five other astronauts, if you’re going through the red planet, or even if you have an outpost mission on the moon and who knows in the future to an asteroid or other. Deep space, exploration mission. So. It was definitely a very wonderful opportunity and it gave me a lot of insight into what it is to be actually be on such a mission that is completely incredible.


You have done so much in such a short time. I know you’re. Yeah, right in kind of that new generation space. So leaders are the program that we’ve got here at the space foundation for the up and coming and, you know, you’ve just done some truly amazing things. And like I said, I don’t think any of us would be surprised to hear your name as being part of the astronaut Corps here, you know, within the next five years, even you’ve done some very incredible things in it.


It’s been truly a pleasure to speak with you today. So thank you so much for your time and sharing your experiences with our listening audience today. You know, the work that you’re doing is making the world and really our whole universe, such a better place. Thanks for calling. It was really wonderful sharing my experiences with you as well.


And thank you for the opportunity. Absolutely. So, yes, we’re just so grateful. And I know that our viewers really enjoy this today. So again, I am calling Paris of the space foundation and I am inviting you to learn more about our work at Or by visiting us at the discovery center in Colorado Springs, Colorado, please keep your eyes and ears open for more podcasts coming your way because of the space foundation.


We always have space for you.

Listen to the Podcast

Space4U Podcast: Dr. Kavya Manyapu, Flight Crew Operations and Test Engineer