NASA's next-generation spacesuits unveiled, to be ready by 2024
NASA revealed its designs for future spacesuits that astronauts will wear during trips to the Moon.
NASA revealed its designs for future spacesuits that astronauts will wear during trips to the lunar surface. The suits are still under process, but NASA promises to be ready to keep astronauts alive in space by 2024 — the space agency's deadline to return humans to the Moon.
Known as the xEMU, this next-generation spacesuit is inspired from the suits already worn by astronauts on the International Space Station. These newly upgraded suits will help the astronauts to live and work on the Moon efficiently. During a demonstration at NASA headquarters, a spacesuit engineer showed off the flexibility of the suit, proving it can twist and bend at the waist, unlike the earlier suits. The suit's legs are also flexible, enabling astronauts to walk on another world.
NASA states that the xEMU can fit a broad range of astronaut sizes also. Amy Ross, a spacesuit designer at NASA, during the demonstration, said, "We can fit anywhere from the first percentile female to the 99th percentile male." That's been current spacesuit design struggle, which has very few options when it comes to sizing. These size limitations confine astronauts on spacewalks. NASA says the xEMU will be designed with many different sized parts, an adjustable feature in the shoulder that will make it easier for different sized people to wear it.
The xEMU design builds upon experiences during the Apollo missions to the Moon. Firstly, it is designed to resist lunar dust, which is incredibly fine and turned out to be a significant problem for the Apollo Moonwalkers — sticking to everything and getting into the equipment. To keep the dust away, the xEMU will not have zippers or cables, and its main components are sealed. NASA says that the suit can also tolerate the extreme temperatures of the lunar surface, operating between 250 and minus 250 degrees Fahrenheit.
The xEMU sample on stage at NASA headquarters was impressive, and there's still a lot of things to be done before these suits are worn for Moonwalks. In 2021 another major review of the spacesuit design planned by NASA. After that, the xEMU will undergo a battery of tests, including sticking it in a vacuum chamber to simulate the environment of the Moon.
If it clears that, the xEMU will be ready to go to space. Within the next two years, NASA plans to launch one of these spacesuits to the International Space Station, where an astronaut will put on the ensemble for a spacewalk. Though for some reason NASA misses this in-space test, it can still send the xEMU to the Moon.
During a press conference on the suits, Chris Hansen, chief engineer of the International Space Station at NASA, said, "We will try to get the suit onboard the space station as fast as we can, to get data before we go down to the Moon, but it's not a requirement. We're comfortable with the design enough that if for some reason one of those schedules slips, it's not required that we go to the space station."
The space agency recently put out a request for information from commercial companies, asking for feedback on how to best transition the suit to a future contractor. "We don't want to be in the suit production business," Hansen said. "That's much better left to industry. We want them to innovate. We want them to find out how to build our suits cheaper, faster, and provide those suits to commercial entities."
"It's going to come down to when it comes time to contracts for the [landers]... is when the bulk of the money is really going to need to be provided," Marshall Smith, director of human lunar exploration programs at NASA said during the press conference. "That'll be toward the end of the year before we kind of run into a budget issue if we don't get funded at the levels we think we need."