I’ll take my astro-shirt in an XL

When German astronaut Thomas Reiter hits the sack aboard the International Space Station later this year, he will continue performing critical space studies via his PJs.

As part of a sleep experiment funded by the European Space Agency, Reiter will wear a LifeShirt embedded with sensors that monitor changes in heart rate, a key measure of sleep quality. Researchers from University College Dublin and the University of Limerick in Ireland requested permission to conduct the study to help astronauts improve slumber under conditions of microgravity and high stress.

Before astronauts can get to Mars, they have to address the problem of getting a good night’s sleep. Insomnia is prevalent among astronauts, and during some shuttle missions, as many as half of the crew members take medication to help them sleep.

Data collected during the 150 days Reiter spends on the space station will automatically be stored on a personal digital assistant (PDA) attached to the shirt, and he will answer subjective questions as part of a sleep diary. When Reiter returns to Earth, researchers will retrieve and analyze the data.

VivoMetrics, an American company based in Ventura, Calif., manufactures the sensor-studded shirt, which has already helped U.S. government agencies collect physiological data from military and civilian first responders. The Homeland Security Department awarded a grant of nearly $750,000 to VivoMetrics Government Services to conduct physiological assessments of 500 wildland firefighters during their annual fitness tests.

Kaiser Permanente has used the shirt in pediatric sleep studies so children suspected of suffering from apnea can sleep at home rather than spend the night in a medical testing facility.

To date, people who have worn the LifeShirt report no problems with drool short-circuiting the PDA that collects the data. “In the case where you’re sleeping, [the PDA is] protected by the pillow,” said Elizabeth Gravatte, VivoMetrics’ vice president of sales and marketing.

The LifeShirt is also machine-washable. “It’s made out of Lycra,” Gravatte said. “All you need to do is to disconnect the cable and the PDA and put it in the washing machine.”

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