NASA spin-off technologies have had great impact on many people around the world, whether it be artificial limbs, cochlear implants, solar energy, GPS or water purifiers. But one particular invention has directly affected me and more than 25,000 other people in the United States. NASA has also helped SpeedoUSA develop the LZR Racer, the world’s fastest swimsuit in 2007 and 2008. In fact, during the Beijing Olympics, every gold medal was a swimmer wearing a LZR Racer. (Gerbis, 2009) The suit helped athletes break seventeen world records. I have been a competitive swimmer for four years, and there isn’t one competitive swimmer who hasn’t heard about, seen or used a LZR Racer racing suit. Most wouldn’t think a space shuttle and a competitive swimmer have a lot in common, but both have to compensate for the forces of pressure and viscous drag, the force of friction that causes a moving object to slow when moving through a substance, like air or water. SpeedoUSA in Los Angeles asked NASA to assist in creating a reduced-drag suit shortly after the 2004 Olympics. Manufacturers noted NASA’s elite understanding in areas of fluid dynamics and fighting drag.
On the topic, Stuart Isaac, senior vice president of Team Sales and Sports Marketing said, “People would look at us and say ‘this isn’t rocket science’ and we began to think, ‘well, actually, maybe it is.’” (Turner, 2008) And so rocket science is exactly what SpeedoUSA decided to try. In 2004, SpeedoUSA’s Aqualab conducted tests using a small, re-purposed wind tunnel in NASA’s Langley Research Center. They discovered that the viscous drag on a swimmer is twenty five percent of the slowing force. (Turner, 2008) Being a swimmer, I know that every one-hundredth of a second counts towards my final time, and any reduction of such is crucial. Knowing this, Speedo had a fabric in mind at the start of the process. The manufacturer says the fabric, which Speedo calls LZR Pulse, is not only effectual at reducing drag, but it also resists water and is exceedingly lightweight. Speedo had tested hundreds of fabrics before confirming LZR Pulse. NASA and Speedo performed tests on several types of seams, namely, traditionally sewn seams, ultrasonically welded seams, and the fabric alone.
The results of the test concluded that ultrasonically welded seams were the most efficient, and the LZR Racer was the first, full bodied, fully bonded suit with ultrasonically welded seams. (Turner, 2008) The seams alone reduced drag by six percent. NASA also found that a low-profile zipper helped reduce drag by eight percent. Low profile seams and zippers were crucial to the LZR Racer, because they provide compression, which provides maximum productivity. (Turner, 2008) Like a wetsuit, the LZR Racer covers from the top of a swimmer’s shoulders, entire torso and to the ankles, reducing skin friction. Taking it one step further, NASA and Speedo reshaped a swimmer with their suit, compressing key areas such as the chest, the stomach and the thighs, fitting a swimmer like a corset. The compression accounts fr a five percent gain in efficiency, and allows a swimmer to maintain right form, and save oxygen to swim faster for longer. (Gerbis, 2009) The LZR Racer reduced all possible points of conflict on an elite swimmer’s body.
Fédération Internationale de Natation, or FINA, is the board recognized by the International Olympic Committee for the overseeing of aquatic sports. In 2008, following the European Short Course Championships in Croatia, seventeen world records fell. It was seen as a sign to change limitations on swimsuits. In 2009, after a meeting in Dubai, FINA designated that swimsuits could not cover the neck, extend past the shoulders and ankles, and limited thickness and buoyancy. (BBC, 2009) However, on the 24th of July 2009, in Rome during the World Aquatics Championships, the previous ruling was reversed and FINA banned all body length suits. The ruling stated that men’s’ suits must cover from only waist to knee, and females’ suits only cover from shoulders to knee. No zippers were allowed. The rules took effect January 1st, 2010. (Shipley, 2009)
I currently wear the LZR Racer Pro Recordbreaker Kneeskin for all of my highly competitive races. This swimsuit has LZR Pulse fabric, low-profile seams and the best-selling “Recordbreaking” back styling. While in the suit, I have won awards, such as 3rd place in the 200 meter backstroke at Wyoming’s USA Swimming Summer State. I’ve won many others, including High-Point Earner last year, and sixth in the 100 backstroke at 2010 Wyoming State Swimming Championships, and those are just the main awards. This suit technology has helped me in my swimming, to win, yes, but also to be more confident in my mindset when I approach the starting block, knowing I’m wearing the latest. The rules may have changed to be against the LZR Racer suit, but new technologies are being tested every day, and I’m positive a
new, efficient, drag-resistant suit will be created sooner or later. A space shuttle and a swimmer have more in common than most would think.
Turner, J. (2008). Space age swimsuit reduces drag, breaks records. Retrieved from http://www.sti.nasa.gov/tto/Spinoff2008/ch_4.html
Gerbis, N. (2009). From riblets to water corsets: the speedo lzr. Retrieved from http://science.howstuffworks.com/innovation/nasa-inventions/nasa-invent-ribbed-swimsuit1.htm
BBC. (2009, March 19). Fina extends swimsuit regulations. Retrieved from http://news.bbc.co.uk/sport2/hi/olympic_games/7944084.stm
Shipley, A. (2009, July 24). Fina opts to ban all high-tech swimsuits. Retrieved from http://reachforthewall.com/2009/07/24/suit-story/?hpid=artslot