NASA has unveiled a new generation of spacesuits for humanity’s return trip to the moon.
The new design comes with specialist features to support astronauts as they conduct science experiments on the lunar surface.
The prototype is said to be better suited to female space travelers.
NASA hopes to have the updated suit ready for the Artemis III mission to the moon in 2025.
Existing space suits worn by US space travelers have not been completely redesigned since 1981.
When NASA announced that humanity would return to the moon after more than fifty years, it promised to send the first black woman and person to the lunar surface.
But previous plans to send female astronauts into space have been thwarted by a lack of spacesuits their size.
A well-fitting suit is essential to prevent excessive fatigue and, in the worst case, bodily harm.
In 2019, NASA planned to send an all-female team of astronauts to complete a spacewalk from the International Space Station.
But just days before Anne McClain and Christina Koch set off on the walk, NASA realized they didn’t have two spacesuits that were the correct size for both women, and McClain had to be replaced by colleague Nick Hague.
NASA now believes the new design will overcome these issues and address some of the challenges posed by the Artemis III mission to the moon, which is scheduled to take off in 2025.
The basic requirement of a space suit is to provide oxygen to astronauts which will enable them to survive in the near vacuum of space. This aspect requires careful planning, as a failure would see an astronaut’s lungs expand rapidly causing death.
“We have a lot of stringent requirements on this suit,” said Lara Kearney, manager of NASA’s spacesuit and rover team, at today’s demonstration of the new design.
“The moon is a hostile place and the south pole is going to be really challenging. Lots of thermal requirements, we are looking for improved mobility so our astronauts can operate more efficiently.”
Texas-based company Axiom Space won a $228m (£190m) contract last year to design the suits, and now six months later they’ve revealed the first prototype.
Unlike previous suits, the new Axiom Extravehicular Mobility Unit (AxEMU) spacesuit has stitched seams to provide astronauts with greater flexibility. It also features lights integrated into the helmet.
These features are crucial as astronauts will be required to examine geology, retrieve samples and gather other data to further our understanding of the Moon’s south polar region.
The helmet is also equipped with an HD camera to allow you to watch videos from the moon in high definition on Earth.
The new space boots should be able to withstand the freezing temperatures found in the permanently shadowed regions of the lunar surface.
The suits will be made using advanced manufacturing methods including 3D printers and laser cutters to ensure exact measurements.
The prototype is part of a $1 billion investment by NASA to get two flight-ready spacesuits in time for the mission to the moon.
In 2021, the space agency revealed it had already spent $420 million internally on spacesuit development, but was struggling to see results, so it made the decision to contract the private sector to continue the work.
Mike Suffredini, president and CEO of Axiom Space, said in a statement that: “Axiom Space’s Artemis III spacesuit will be ready to meet the complex challenges of the lunar south pole and help grow our understanding of the moon in order to allow for a long-term presence there».
The spacesuits will undergo further tests at NASA’s Johnson Space Center’s Neutral Buoyancy Lab over the next year, before the launch of Artemis III in 2024.