NASA has unveiled a new generation of spacesuits for humanity's return to the Moon. The innovative design includes specialized features to assist astronauts conducting scientific experiments on the surface of the moon. The prototype is reportedly more suitable for female space travelers.
NASA expects the updated suit to be ready for the Artemis III lunar mission in 2025. Since 1981, the existing spacesuits worn by US space travelers have not been completely redesigned.
Nasa pledged to send the first woman and person of color to the lunar surface when it was announced that humanity would return to the moon after more than half a century. However, previous plans to send female astronauts into space were thwarted by the absence of spacesuits in their size.
A suit that fits properly is essential for preventing excessive fatigue and, in the worst case, physical harm. In 2019, NASA intended to dispatch an all-female crew to perform a spacewalk from the International Space Station. However, just days before Anne McClain and Christina Koch were to embark on the walk, NASA realized they did not have two spacesuits in the correct size for both women, and Nick Hague had to replace McClain.
NASA now believes that the new design will solve these issues and meet some of the challenges presented by the Artemis III mission to the moon, which is scheduled to launch in 2025. The primary function of a spacesuit is to provide astronauts with oxygen, allowing them to survive in the near-vacuum of space. Failure in this aspect would result in the rapid expansion of an astronaut's lungs, causing death.
Last year, the Texas-based company Axiom Space was awarded a $228 million (£190 million) contract to design the suits; now, six months later, they have unveiled the first prototype. As opposed to previous suits, the new Axiom Extravehicular Mobility Unit (AxEMU) spacesuit has stitched-in joints to give astronauts greater mobility. Additionally, the helmet has built-in lights.
Astronauts will be required to survey geology, retrieve samples, and collect additional data to advance our understanding of the south polar region of the Moon. The helmet also includes an HD video camera so that videos captured on the moon can be viewed in high definition on Earth.
The new space boots should be able to withstand the subzero temperatures found in permanently shadowed lunar surface regions. To ensure precise measurements, the suits will be produced using advanced manufacturing techniques, such as 3-D printers and laser cutters.
NASA is investing $1 billion to develop two flight-ready spacesuits in time for a mission to the Moon.
The space agency disclosed in 2021 that it had already spent $420 million on spacesuit development internally, but was unable to achieve satisfactory results. As a result, it decided to contract the private sector to continue the work. Mike Suffredini, president and chief executive officer of Axiom Space, said in a statement: "Axiom Space's Artemis III spacesuit will be prepared to meet the complex challenges of the lunar south pole and will contribute to expanding our knowledge of the moon to enable a long-term presence there”.
Before Artemis III's launch in 2024, the spacesuits will undergo additional testing at NASA's Johnson Space Center's Neutral Buoyancy Lab over the next year.