NASA has unveiled a prototype of the spacesuit that US astronauts will wear during their next mission to land on the moon. The new suit was designed and built by Axiom Space, a space services company, and comes with specialist features for the astronauts to do scientific experiments. It’s also said to be a better fit for female space travelers.
The design was exhibited at the Johnson Space Center in Houston during an event for the media and students hosted by Axiom Space. The existing spacesuits worn by US astronauts haven’t been fully redesigned since 1981 when NASA carried out the first orbital spaceflight. Now, with the moon back on the agenda, it was time for an upgrade.
“We have a lot of tough requirements on this suit,” Lara Kearney, manager of Nasa’s spacesuit and rovers team, said at the presentation event. “The moon is a hostile place, and the south pole is really going to be a challenge — a lot of thermal requirements, we are looking for improved mobility so our astronauts can operate more efficiently.”
A new suit for a new space era
NASA contracted Axion in 2022 to build the agency’s next-generation spacesuits to support lunar missions. Called the Axiom Extravehicular Mobility Unit, or AxEMU, the spacesuit builds on NASA’s own prototype developments and incorporates more flexibility, greater protection from hazards on the moon and specialized tools for exploration.
The spacesuits will have a white outer layer to reflect heat, protecting from extremely high temperatures. The helmet has inbuilt lights and an HD video camera to allow videos from the moon to be seen in high definition back on Earth. The space boots can tolerate the freezing temperatures that are found in the permanently shadowed regions of the lunar surface.
NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said the partnership with Axiom is critical to land astronauts on the moon in the near future. The new spacesuits “will not only enable the first woman to walk on the Moon, but they will also open opportunities for more people to explore and conduct science on the Moon than ever before,” he added in a media statement.
Having a well-fitting suit is critical for space flight as it prevents fatigue and physical harm. In 2019, NASA wanted to send two female astronauts to do a space walk from the International Space Station. But days before the walk they realized they didn’t have suits in the correct size for women. Now, the new design is expected to overcome these problems.
The Artemis mission, named for Apollo’s twin sister from Greek mythology, completed its first phase in December with the launch of NASA’s next-generation rocket and its Orion spacecraft on an uncrewed test around the moon and back. Artemis 2 will take four astronauts, to be announced next year, on another out-and-back mission to the moon.
If that flight is successful, NASA will work on Artemis 3 – an expedition to the lunar surface. It will be the first ever to send a woman to walk on the moon. NASA has also promised that the following missions will also include a person of color on the moon. The program ultimately seeks to establish a lunar base as a previous step for Mars exploration.