25Oct2019

NASA’s Space Suit Gets an Upgrade

NASA’s iconic spacesuits have received upgrades to make space exploration safer and more inclusive.

Photo Credit: NASA/Joel Kowsky, CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0

Past missions and events have shown the need for a rehaul of suit technology — most recently, the all-female spacewalk that occurred on Monday. NASA previously scheduled it for March 2019, but had to reschedule because they only had one suit to fit both women.

However, this error brought up questions about suit design and how female astronauts fit into the bigger picture of space travel. When scientists create spacesuits with men in mind, how do women find a place among the stars? Saralyn Mark, a former medical adviser for NASA, warned them of gender discrepancies in design for years. Sending people into an environment as unpredictable and massive as outer space requires attention to detail, yet this aspect remained neglected up until recently.

NASA has redeemed itself with its new spacesuits, however, which display new technologies and improved sizes.

The Upgraded Technology

On Oct. 15, NASA unveiled two new suits it plans to use on upcoming missions.

The first suit gets a bright boost from its previous all-white color scheme by boasting the colors of the American flag. It’s more flexible than previous iterations, allowing space trekkers to rotate, twist and gather moon rocks with relative ease. The suit’s official name is xEMU — or the Exploration Extravehicular Mobility Unit — which speaks directly to its upgraded mobility. It’s intended for use on the moon’s surface, protecting its wearer from radiation, extreme temperatures and moondust.

This upgraded uniform also fits a range of body sizes, heights and types. As space exploration grows more extensive, so does the variety of people going on missions. One size fits all was OK when only men were heading to outer space, but improvements have been long overdue. And with suits that can now withstand nine hours of space exposure, it’s safe to say NASA left no stone unturned.

The second suit they unveiled displays the familiar orange hue, but it’s adaptable for different body types and features an advanced pressure stabilization system. It’s for use inside spacecraft, but it doesn’t skimp on the tech or flexibility. The helmet comes with an enhanced communications system, and the suit itself contains a life preserver with a personal locator beacon.

What’s Ahead for NASA

The xEMU will serve NASA’s new program Artemis, which consists of many ambitious objectives — including their plan to send the first woman to the moon. Groundbreaking strides in space travel call for a fancy new look to match the occasion. This Artemis mission will take off in 2024, less than five years from where we currently stand. Today’s high school freshmen will be heading to college by then — an exciting milestone occuring both on Earth and within the galaxies.

Astronauts will wear the orange Orion Crew Survival System when launching into space and returning to Earth. These shuttle missions will occur more frequently as a part of the Artemis project. More space ventures call for stronger suits to keep space trekkers safe.

All this excitement leads up to the eventual Mars colonization, which exists in a far-off and mysterious future. We’re not yet ready to send humans to live on other planets, but these suits are paving the way for that possibility. Though both are excellent as is, they will continually receive tech improvements up to 2024 and beyond.

One Giant Leap for Humankind

These improved spacesuits mark an exhilarating time in American history. They open the boundaries for deciding who can join missions, and they allow more children to dream of someday exploring the skies. NASA’s innovations can bring the world’s hopes of traversing Mars that much closer.

Written By: Megan Ray Nichols – Associate Editor of Astro Space News
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