Personal Space

NASA's Space Suit Gets a Major Redesign

 

The past half-century has been crammed with space exploration breakthroughs and technological innovations. But for much of that time, NASA failed to adapt its astronaut suit. Largely untouched since the early 1960s, the suit was tailored to an average man's specifications despite the fact that more than 40 U.S. women have since flown on a space shuttle or spent time aboard the International Space Station. That changed late last year, when NASA put the finishing touches on a suit that would work for all body types.

“We've been working for a long time to build spacesuits that will do the job on the moon and go on to Mars,” Amy Ross, a spacesuit engineer at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, USA, told The New York Times.

The next lunar expedition, the Artemis III mission, recently had its deadline moved up from 2028 to 2024, expediting all project preparations—including the spacesuit redesign. The 2024 mission is expected to land the first woman on the moon, as well as the next man.

The Exploration Extravehicular Mobility Unit (xEMU, as the new suit is known) is designed for activities outside of a spacecraft, which put a focus on both comfort and mobility. The project team took a modular approach, with pieces that can be added and adjusted, as well as easy cinching or expansion at the chest and waist. Team engineers chose a synthetic fabric for xEMU, similar to the spacesuits of old, but included updates to the electronics, environmental filters and pressure control systems based on new information the team has collected about the lunar environment. The suit can withstand temperatures between negative 250 and 250 degrees Fahrenheit (negative 157 to 121 Celsius).

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PHOTO COURTESY OF NASA

A new audio system integrated into the suit itself includes multiple voice-activated microphones embedded inside the upper torso that automatically pick up the astronaut's voice. This allows the astronaut to communicate with other spacewalkers, crewmates on the spacecraft, and mission control with greater ease and speed.

“We need to learn to live and work on the surface of another world for long periods of time, and in order to do that we need spacesuits,” NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine told a group of NASA employees in October.—Amanda Hermans

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