A spacesuit is more like a miniature spacecraft you wear around your body than an item of clothing. It’s pressurized, it’s decked out with life support systems, and it’s likely to look pretty cool. But should the suit fail, you’re toast. 

No one has ever died because of a faulty spacesuit, but that doesn’t mean current models are perfect. Whether it’s for launch into space or reentry back to Earth, or for an extravehicular activity (EVA, colloquially known as a spacewalk), astronauts have never been completely satisfied with the gear they are forced to put on for missions. 

Fortunately, though, the flurry of new activity in space has meant we’re seeing more innovation in spacesuit design and performance than ever before. The suits look better, too. The emergence of new private vehicles like SpaceX’s Crew Dragon and Boeing’s Starliner means NASA astronauts going to the International Space Station are wearing new spacesuits that are extremely sleek and chic. In place of the baggy orange Advanced Crew Escape Suit (affectionately nicknamed the “pumpkin suit”) that space shuttle crews used to wear when launching into orbit, SpaceX and Boeing have designed something that is much more form-fitting and half the mass. Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken, the astronauts who went up on the Crew Dragon to the ISS in May, remarked that they were extremely comfortable and easy to get on and off. Suits that are worn during takeoff and reentry are designed to protect astronauts from fire, and they plug into seat umbilicals that carry oxygen and cool air in case the cabin depressurizes for some reason. 

The most interesting work, however, has to do with NASA’s next-generation spacesuit for astronauts going to the moon—the eXploration Extravehicular Mobility Unit, or xEMU. It is ostensibly the successor to the spacesuits worn by Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and other Apollo astronauts when they set foot on the lunar surface half a century ago. But it also incorporates what we’ve learned through the EMUs used in orbit during the space shuttle and ISS eras of human exploration, as well as the hard lessons from Apollo. The goal behind Artemis is to have people living and working on the moon. New spacesuits will be critical to ensuring that the experience is safe and comfortable.

“We are so excited about putting people back on the moon,” says Richard Rhodes, a spacesuit engineer at NASA who’s working on the xEMU. “Our main goal is that the crew doesn’t even think about us. They put the suit on, and they do their work—the science, the exploration—and do not even think twice about how mobile they are or how effectively they can work. That’s a tall order, but we’re trying to get as close to that as possible. We want to be invisible.” 

Here are some of the biggest innovations we can expect out of xEMU.

Increased mobility

“When you’re designing a spacesuit, you want it to move freely and efficiently,

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By: Neel Patel
Title: Current spacesuits won’t cut it on the moon. So NASA made new ones.
Sourced From: www.technologyreview.com/2020/12/29/1015573/future-spacesuits-moon-mars-nasa-xemu/
Published Date: Tue, 29 Dec 2020 11:00:00 +0000