Geckos inspire new NASA technology to make things stick together in space

New grippers, using technology inspired by the tiny hairs on the bottom of geckos’ feet that allow the lizards to cling to walls, can support more than 150 Newtons of force – the equivalent of 16 kilograms.

In a microgravity flight test last year through NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate’s Flight Opportunities Program, the gecko-gripping technology was used to grapple a 10 kilogram cube and a 100 kilogram person.

The gecko material was separately tested in more than 30,000 cycles of turning the stickiness “on” and “off” when Parness was in graduate school at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California. Despite the extreme conditions, the adhesive stayed strong.

Researchers have more recently made three sizes of hand-operated “astronaut anchors”, which could one day be given to astronauts inside the International Space Station.

An artist’s concept shows how a future robot called LEMUR (Limbed Excursion Mechanical Utility Robot) could inspect and maintain installations on the International Space Station. The robot would stick to the outside using a gecko-inspired gripping system.

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