Sooner or later, humans will once again set foot on the moon—perhaps by the middle of the century, if NASA’s Artemis program goes according to plan. Beyond that, public or private manned missions to Mars in the 2030s or 2040s appear to be no longer limited to science fiction. But what will astronauts wear when they take these steps on other worlds? Procuring giant rockets and futuristic spacecraft for Artemis has been the most well-known hurdle for NASA to overcome, but its efforts to design a new spacesuit for the moon have proved just as challenging.Since 2007, the space agency has spent approximately $420 million New suit designs without actual deployment. Finally, after all these unsuccessful attempts, last month NASA Announce It chose to outsource the work and selected two companies to create the next generation of haute couture for the high-end cutting edge.
The companies — Axiom Space in Texas and Collins Aerospace in North Carolina — will each independently develop new spacesuits as part of NASA’s Exploration Extravehicular Activity Services (xEVAS) contract. NASA has budgeted $3.5 billion for the combined effort by 2034 and plans to purchase its spacesuits from both companies as a service, which would free both parties to manufacture and sell additional spacesuits for non-NASA commercial missions. space suit. After demonstrating the suits in Earth orbit, they will be used for the first Artemis landing, currently scheduled for 2025. The mission, called Artemis III, will feature two astronauts, a man and a woman, who will don the suits of one of the two companies and venture to the lunar surface together. Whichever company isn’t selected for the first landing will supply suits for later Artemis missions.
“This is a historic day for us,” Vanessa Wyche, director of NASA’s Johnson Space Center, said in a June 1 news conference announcing the award. “When we get to the moon, these space suits will be history.”
The two companies were chosen after NASA called for a new spacesuit proposal in 2021 because the existing Extravehicular Mobility Unit (EMU) spacesuits used on the International Space Station (ISS) are too bulky for exploration of the lunar surface and stiff.More than 40 companies, including SpaceX and Blue Origin, have registered their interest, but Only Axioms and Collins Submit completed proposals by the December 2021 deadline.in a Source Choice Statement In a release later in June, NASA gave high marks to both Axiom’s proposed suit, called AxEMU, and Collins’ proposed suit, which is currently unnamed.
As designed, this public-private partnership would allow the two suit makers to also offer services outside the space agency, possibly to visitors to private space stations, such as the one that Axiom is currently developing. “Axiom will use AxEMU to support all of our customers,” said Mark Greeley, Axiom’s xEVAS program manager. “AxEMU can support [spacewalks] In any environment the customer expects,” he said. Collins has the same intentions. “We don’t want this to be just a custom design for NASA,” said Collins senior technical fellow and former astronaut Dan Burbank. “It should be a A commercially suitable suit can also meet the needs of private astronauts. “
Getting to this stage is a daunting process. In 2012, NASA unveiled its Z-1 prototype spacesuit, green and white design This could have made future moonwalkers look like Buzz Lightyear.later is Redesigned as Z-2, but development stalled. In 2019, NASA showed off its attempt at the Artemis mission, known as the Exploration Extravehicular Mobility Unit (xEMU), but an audit by the agency’s Office of the Inspector General found the suits won’t be ready for the Artemis landing; it cites lingering issues related to cost and technical issues. “There are concerns that this is a never-ending and unsustainable process,” said Cathleen Lewis, a space historian at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C. That doesn’t mean NASA’s quest for an interior spacesuit will be in vain — both Axiom and Collins have access to all previous work. “They can decide how much of NASA’s design they want to use,” said Lara Kearney, program manager for extravehicular activities and human surface mobility at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Texas.
The exact designs of the spacesuits for the two companies are still being kept under wraps.The selection process required both of them to demonstrate that their suits would satisfy About 80 requirements set by NASA, However. “We then let them decide for themselves what their design would look like,” Kearney said. These requirements relate to the unique goals of the Artemis mission and its expected differences from the Apollo missions of the 1960s and 1970s. Artemis astronauts will spend more time on the lunar surface than their predecessors and will explore more diverse locations, including the dark depths of craters that may contain water ice. These aspirations require more mobility and greater adaptability than the clumsy hobbling and climbing provided by the Apollo program’s spacesuits: The new spacesuits aren’t for the all-male (and all-white) lunar walker cadre service, but must meet the needs of NASA from afar. A more diverse modern astronaut corps. “We have to think about diversity,” said Amy Foster, a space historian at the University of Central Florida. “I don’t want anyone to lose an Artemis ride because they’re not fit for a suit.”
Versatile and durable
Among the requirements, the suits would need to allow at least six excursions to the lunar surface per mission. It happens at least once a day, and each time lasts more than eight hours. Astronauts must be able to get in and out of the suit without assistance, and the total preparation time for an adventure outside the lander or habitat must not exceed 90 minutes.
Both Axiom and Collins style their suits in a post-entry style. This means that these new designs can be attached externally to a special NASA prototype airlock, called a spacesuit port, rather than putting on a spacesuit and exiting the spacecraft like the spacesuits currently aboard the International Space Station. “You can literally go back to the hatch, put your outside [suit] to the structure, and then open the hatch,” Burbank said. This helps reduce the amount of potentially harmful lunar regolith, or lunar dust, that is tracked inside. Using the suit port “eliminates the amount of regolith,” Burbank said. Dangerous”. “None of the outside of the suit can see the inside of the spacecraft. “
Partly reflecting NASA’s goal of getting Artemis to put the first people of color and the first women on the moon, the new suits also had to be “one size fits all” in a sense – able to work in multiple Used interchangeably on a mission consisting of a group of astronauts of varying nature. Each suit must allow 90% of the male and female population to wear it, which includes anyone as short as 4’10” (1.5m) or as tall as 6’4″ (1.9m) and weighing 94 to 243 pounds (42 to 243 pounds) 110 kg). “NASA is trying to do an all-female spacewalk [in 2019] They had to hold off all the time because they didn’t have the right size suits,” said Michael Lye, a spacesuit designer at Rhode Island School of Design. “The new suits from Axiom and Collins will fit a wider variety. How the two companies plan to meet this requirement has not been disclosed.
Another key goal of the Artemis mission is to collect large numbers of samples for follow-up research. The set must have accessories to accomplish this, including a hammer, rake, chisel and a hand-held flashlight. They are also designed to be extremely maneuverable and incorporate movable torso and joints to allow astronauts to traverse the low-gravity, rugged lunar landscape more naturally. “In the Apollo days, there was no ability to have your hips move opposite your shoulders,” Burbank said. “You really can’t have your hips misaligned with your shoulders. You can do that with this spacesuit.” The suits will also be of lower quality than Apollo-era designs, making them easier to use for extended periods of time . “I did push-ups in my new suit,” Burbank said. “That’s unthinkable in the current suits we have right now.”
NASA has many other high standards to meet these requirements, some of which are unprecedented. They were not allowed to subject the astronauts to any sound higher than 115 decibels, similar to the noise from a leaf blower. They have to be strong enough to reduce the chance of a micrometeoroid penetrating the exterior to 1 in 2,500. Inspired by the ceremonial deployment of the American Stars and Stripes by each group of Apollo lunar landers (and the difficulty of hammering the pole into the surprisingly difficult lunar terrain), the sets had to include tools to help the Artemis crew carry and plant the flag. It’s nauseating that these spacesuits must somehow be able to clear up to half a liter of vomit from moonwalkers’ eyes, noses and mouths to prevent them from regurgitating inside their helmets.
The suits must also remain functional after being left on the lunar surface — initially 210 days, but ultimately up to three years, according to NASA. This could allow astronauts on future missions to revisit previous landing sites and reuse spacesuits left behind without having to carry their own. “Depending on the landing site, we can go and collect and reuse them,” Kearney said. Both Axiom and Collins are working on incorporating other technologies into suits, such as digital head-up displays in helmets. “Our vision is to show the crew about the health of the suit, their own health and [crewmates], the road to their rover, all that,” Burbank said. “You can also interweave infrared images. “
Perhaps most importantly, these suits must be designed for a new era of daring lunar exploration. Apollo missions were conservatively focused on the sun-drenched equatorial region on the moon’s near side, but Artemis missions will venture into the more daunting regions of the moon’s south pole.Here, astronauts can explore some of the Moon’s Permanently Shaded Regions (PSR) – the angle of the craters makes the sun never reaches their depthsInside the Moon, temperatures could drop to –400 degrees Fahrenheit (–240 degrees Celsius), twice the lowest surface temperatures found elsewhere on the Moon during the two-week lunar night. Observations from lunar orbit suggest that PSR may be rich in water ice that either freezes on the surface or gets mixed into the lunar soil and can be used as drinking water or rocket fuel. NASA requires that the new spacesuits can operate in these frigid locations for at least two hours, which will give astronauts a chance to take a look there.
“There are hundreds of millions of tons of water ice buried in the relatively shallow depths of Antarctica,” Burbank said. “Water is essential for a human presence on the moon. So you’re going to need space suits to actually do resource extraction.”
It’s not just the moon that astronauts can wear these clothes on. Both are designed with modifications in mind for future final missions to Mars, as directed by NASA. “AxEMU has been carefully designed to support Martian [extravehicular activities],” Greeley said, noting that while “some developments remain,” the company is working out how to deal with the planet’s thin atmosphere and its stronger gravitational field. First, though, will be a frantic but methodical sprint for the first One, long-awaited preparation for the Moon landing of Artemis. Of course, delays in the development of the necessary rockets could push back the theoretical 2025 deadline — and that’s probably for the best, given such a short time frame Getting such an ambitious suit ready seems challenging, to say the least. “There’s a lot of work to be done,” Lewis said. But that work should ensure they have shiny new clothes every time humans step on the moon again Can be worn, vomit removal system and more.