NASA chose these designers to make over its ancient spacesuits
NASA is planning to send future astronauts to the moon in new outerwear. After 40 years of withstanding the wear-and-tear of living in space, modern spacesuits are finally getting a makeover.
The agency revealed on Wednesday that it is partnering with Collins Aerospace and Axiom Spa to create the next generation spacesuits. These suits will be worn by astronauts to conduct spacewalks aboard International Space Station, to explore the lunar surface during Artemis missions, as well as to prepare for human-led missions on Mars.
The companies were chosen as part of the Exploration Extravehicular Activity Services contract, an agreement that allows selected companies to compete for tasks through 2034. These tasks include demonstrations outside of the space station and for Artemis III. They have a total value of $3.5 billion.
Officials from NASA stated that although the companies technically own the spacesuits, they can still develop public-private partnerships such as this one to help NASA save money and achieve more design and development goals than it could do on its own.
” We’re not only meeting NASA’s objectives but also helping to foster and support an emerging space economy,” stated Lindsay Aitchison ,, a program executive for NASA’s Extravehicular Activity Program and Human Surface Mobility Program. It’s exciting, it leads innovation, and ensures that we have sustained competition .”
The spacesuits will also serve as a “key focal point” when we take the first steps back to the lunar South Pole, Aitchison said. This contract is a significant milestone towards that goal. The potential suit designs are still in the early stages of design, so it’s difficult to predict what the new outfits might look like. They could be different from previous iterations because NASA’s current spacesuits can’t withstand the harsh conditions that future deep-space explorers will encounter.
They will also replace the old spacesuits that ISS astronauts use to perform extravehicular activities, also known as spacewalks. They are nearly 50 years old and were originally created for the Space Shuttle program. “The existing spacesuit has been the workhorse for the agency for 40 years, and it’s helped maintain and utilize the International Space Station as well as construct it,” said Dina Contella, the operations integration manager for the International Space Station program at the NASA Johnson Space Center.
In 169 of the 250 spacewalks that have been completed aboard the station, she said, astronauts wore the current iteration of the space suit. But because they’re restrictive, rarely upgraded, and have had a long history of issues–the latest being a shelved spacewalk due to a space helmet leaking water–they just won’t cut it for long-term space exploration. And it’s about time to try out new spacesuit technologies anyway, Contella said.
[Related: Why NASA is running out of spacesuits]
While plans are still in place to retire the ISS in 2030, testing how the suits fare on the station will help guide astronaut’s gear needs for future missions. “[The] The ISS is a testbed and a testbed for exploration,” Contella stated. “We look forward to learning as much as we can on ISS, and then transferring what we’ve learned to Artemis .”
As we race to learn more about deep-space exploration and explore, it’s worth mentioning that NASA has been rethinking its lunar mission suit designs in recent years. In 2019, NASA released the Exploration Extravehicular Mobility Units, or xEMU, a suit tailor-made for Artemis-era missions, and said that they would build two of them by 2024.
But due to the pandemic, funding shortfalls and an array of technical challenges, it’s now highly unlikely that the xEMU design will be flight-ready even by 2025.
According to a 2021 report from NASA’s inspector general office, by the time two xEMUs are completed, the agency will have already spent over $1 billion sponsoring the creation of the next-gen spacesuits Axiom and Collins Aerospace are currently working on. That’s a huge jump, considering that since 2007, NASA has poured about $420 million into spacesuit development. More than half of this sum was spent in the past five years.
To bring their vision of the next NASA spacesuit to life, Dan Burbank, a senior technical fellow at Collins Aerospace, said that one of the company’s goals is to have users, which could someday include both astronauts and future space tourists, “deeply embedded” in the design aspect of the project.
” Although we will often refer to the spacesuit as the world’s smallest, it is human-shaped and human-sized. It shouldn’t feel like one,” he said during conference. “We want to create an immersive environment that allows crew members maximum mobility and complements their capabilities, rather than limiting them. We are very excited to do this .”
The author of 5 books, 3 of which are New York Times bestsellers. I’ve been published in more than 100 newspapers and magazines and am a frequent commentator on NPR.