NASA'S SCI-FI GROUP MEETS

Alan Boyle, that lucky bastard. MSNBC's crack space columnist got to be a fly on the wall at the annual meeting of the NASA Institute for Advanced Concepts -- the space agency's sci-fi arm. They're the guys who fund way-out studies into things like magnetic plasma beam propulsion, weather control, and robot swarms to defend the Earth. Think of it as an itty-bitty version of Darpa, but for space. With way more lasers.One of the ideas reviewed at this week's confab: a spray-on spacesuit for a trip to Mars. MIT engineering professor Dava Newman "has been looking at the possibility of spraying a layer of polymer fabric over an astronaut, in a booth much like those used for getting a spray-on suntan," Alan explains. "The 'second-skin' suit could be augmented by temperature-control underwear, flexible joint attachments and perhaps even an exoskeleton."Grrrrr.

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