A NASA Spacesuit Shortage Threatens To Sideline All Of Their Future Missions – This Brooklyn Startup Wants To Help

Monday, 30 July 2018 - 2:14PM
Space
Monday, 30 July 2018 - 2:14PM
A NASA Spacesuit Shortage Threatens To Sideline All Of Their Future Missions – This Brooklyn Startup Wants To Help
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NASA
NASA's biggest secret has jeopardized key projects like the Lunar Gateway and our ability to send astronauts on manned missions. The agency isn't even responding to requests for comment, no matter how many calls or emails they receive.

(It's not aliens …Well, not this time.)

For decades NASA has used freshmen-level spacesuit technology that has all the innovation of an avocado-green kitchen appliance. These things are old, they're heavy, they're hard to move in – and there aren't enough to go around.

Depending on the type of mission, astronauts require as many as three separate spacesuits: a flight suit for in-shuttle transportation, a second suit with oxygen and pressurization for spacewalks, and a final suit with additional mobility for surface missions like (fingers crossed) walking around on Mars.

Except the agency doesn't have any – at all – that are suitable for surface missions. And those spacewalk suits are running out fast. Only 11 are operational today.

NASA historian Robert Launius defended their designs to The Daily Beast as "very sophisticated pieces of equipment" which, to be fair, they are: a fourteen-layer-cake of protection weighing 275 pounds with a built-in atmosphere. You could almost forgive the agency for spending $200 million to develop new suits… Except they walked away from their spending spree without a single operational design.

One Brooklyn startup wants to change what some might understandably call an expensive and unsustainable R&D model.

Final Frontier Design started as Ted Southern's MFA thesis, where he entered the 2007 NASA Astronaut Glove Challenge to design a glove with improved tactility and movement that could withstand the rigorous physical demands of space. It beat NASA's own designs on more than a few key points, and he pocketed the $100,000 prize.

Southern took his winnings (with presumably an A in his class) and invested them into a private design studio for the "NewSpace" industry, partnering with an engineer and a patternmaker to provide high-tech space suits at low cost.

FFD's latest design is for civilians – space tourism is about to become very much A Thing – and another prototype is being tested for deep space missions. Their designs are lighter, cheaper, and more advanced than what NASA has on deck. The agency has since awarded the startup a fixed-price contract.

Hopefully, they will consider renewing the terms. NASA has plenty of missions planned, but according to a recent audit are "years away from having a flight-ready space suit."

With timelines for Exploration Mission 1 and the Lunar Gateway Station slated to go into action by 2020, this could derail years of progress and send us into an Earth-bound holding pattern.

Not that we'll know when it happens. We can't even get a text back.

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NASA
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