NASA's New Z-2 Spacesuit is a Giant Leap Towards Walking On Mars
In light of NASA's recent push to get astronauts to Mars during the 21st century, the space agency, in collaboration with Delaware-based ILC Dover, has been designing a new line of prototype spacesuits that they call the the Z series.
"We are heading for Mars; that's what is the end goal right now for the suit," said Phil Stampinato of ILC Dove. "So, everything that's done to develop this suit is headed for a Mars mission, even if there is an asteroid mission or a lunar mission prior to that. These Z series spacesuits will be a serious upgrade from the stiff spacesuits that astronauts up at the ISS have been sporting for decades. This ISS spacesuit, known the Extravehicular Mobility Unit is, according to NASA spacesuit engineer "a very, very poor walking suit."
Ross explains that with this new Z-2 prototype, they are "trying to design [this new suit] to accommodate both improved microgravity EVA [extravehicular activity] capability as well as surface capability." The prototypes are more flexible, and allow for more fluid joint movement, allowing future Mars venturers to explore our red neighbor's rocky surface a little more comfortably. "We think it's less prone to [causing] injury, especially shoulder injury," Ross said of the Z-2 design. "And then also, it provides support for some other exploration technology, like a suitport." That's a huge improvement, especially from an astronaut's point of view.
Although these suits are still in their early stages, their design has huge implications on the future of human space travel. And the Z-series doesn't stop with this Z-2 either. The next suit, the Z-3, is set to be released in 2018, and these prototypes will probably continue until NASA's goal-date to reach Mars by the 2030's. "Each iteration of the Z-series will advance new technologies that one day will be used in a suit worn by the first humans to step foot on the Red Planet," NASA officials wrote. So what might seem like a small step in spacesuit design might just end up paving the way for an entire new way of life.