NASA Engineer Talks Futuristic Spacesuit that Will Protect Astronauts on Mars

Monday, 27 July 2015 - 4:03PM
Space
Mars
Monday, 27 July 2015 - 4:03PM
NASA Engineer Talks Futuristic Spacesuit that Will Protect Astronauts on Mars
NASA has spent years developing the state-of-the-art, more flexible, more supportive Z-2 spacesuit, which is designed to withstand almost any type of extraterrestrial environment (and, as a bonus, looks a whole lot like Buzz Lightyear's spacesuit). According to NASA, this spacesuit is a gigantic step forward in their imminent Mission to Mars, which is expected to take place within the next couple of decades.

"We are heading for Mars; that's what is the end goal right now for the [Z-2] suit," Phil Stampinato of ILC Dove said last month. "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."

Today, NASA engineer and spacesuit designer Amy Ross sat down with io9 to talk about the ways in which the Z-2 spacesuit is designed to help astronauts deal with all contingencies, and is specifically intended for NASA's most ambitious missions, such as an extended lunar mission or a jaunt to the Red Planet:

Opening quote
So for the Z2, the configuration is for a planetary surface walking suit. We're thinking about missions like a lunar mission or a Martian mission. However, it could also be used for other exploration missions. Part of the testing we're going to do is to see how it will do in microgravity environments as well. So the environments will vary quite a bit.
 
You could have a vacuum environment or a flight atmosphere environment. You could have a dusty environment or a dust-free environment. The thermal environments will change based on where you go as well. What we've done-and my job-is to make sure that we've looked at all the different missions that you could be able to do and make sure that our designs bracket anything you might want to do.
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The spacesuits are not only cutting edge technologically, with more flexibility and adaptability than ever before, but are probably the coolest-looking spacesuits NASA has ever made. This has not been lost on the ever-trusty Internet, which has compared the retro-looking Z-2 to various fictional spacesuits like Buzz Lightyear, Tron, etc. When asked if the resemblance to Hollywood spacesuits was intentional, Ross said, 

Opening quote
It's kind of a little frustrating. We're engineers, and this is space hardware. So a game I used to play with my mentor is "Why is this feature on the suit?" Because this is a very highly engineered product. If there's a feature there, it's there for a reason, not just because it looks cool. As fun as that would be, we don't get that luxury very often.
 
So with Z1 and Z2, we've been given that freedom to think a little bit about what it looks like, and it's been a lot of fun because spacesuits are cool. We all grew up with these movies too. Hollywood has some really neat things going on and with commercial space coming up, everybody wants to look cool as an astronaut. We don't usually get to do that but with Z1 and Z2 we really had the opportunity to think a little more about what it's going to look like.
Closing quote


But even with the updated aesthetic, the Z-2 is still fairly bulky, and is a far cry from the sleek, shiny spacesuits designed for most Hollywood space operas. Unfortunately, Ross insists that we are at least 25 years away from a slim-fitting spacesuit:

Opening quote
To get [a slimmer biosuit] to be a reality, material development is key. Recently one of Dava's PhD candidates did a fellowship with NASA on making materials that would make the concept more feasible. Right now we're a good 25-50 years out, unless materials development accelerates more than it ever has before, in order to be able to make that suit some kind of a flight spacesuit.
Closing quote
Science
NASA
Space
Mars

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