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NASA know-how helps swimmers rocket through water
Feb '08
World champion swimmer Michael Phelps knows a thing or two about swimsuits. He owns 29 U.S. national swimming titles and won six gold medals and two bronze at the last Summer Olympics four years ago in Australia.

NASA researcher Steve Wilkinson doesn't know that much about swimwear, but he does know a thing or two about drag reduction … how to make something propel through air or water faster and more efficiently.

The swimmer and the researcher met for the first time in New York City at the unveiling of a new product they both had a part in developing. It's called by its manufacturer the "world's fastest swimsuit."

"When I hit the water, I feel like a rocket," said Phelps. "I can't wait to race in it. This is going to take the sport of swimming to a new level."

Phelps and other U.S. athletes may prove that this August at the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing. Wilkinson already knows the fabric Phelps will be wearing has gone through a new level of extensive testing at NASA's Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va., and other laboratories.

"We evaluated the surface roughness effects of nearly 60 fabrics or patterns in one of our small low speed wind tunnels," said Wilkinson. "We were assessing which fabrics and weaves had the lowest drag."

But how can you test a fabric that's supposed to be used in water in a wind tunnel that uses air? It turns out that air and water obey the same physical laws of motion, so a wind tunnel cansimulate similar drag a fabric would experience in water. Testing in air is also less expensive, simpler and offers more testing options than testing in water.

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