NASA unveils sleeker spacesuits for future US mission to Moon

NASA’s new spacesuits will be worn during the Artemis mission, which plans to return humans to the Moon by late 2025.

Axiom Space chief engineer Jim Stein demonstrates a prototype spacesuit, Wednesday, March 15, 2023, in Houston. NASA selected Axiom Space to design the spacesuits that its moonwalking astronauts will wear when they step onto the lunar surface later this decade. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
Axiom Space chief engineer Jim Stein demonstrates a prototype spacesuit, on Wednesday, March 15, 2023, in Houston, Texas, US. NASA selected Axiom Space to design the spacesuits its moonwalking astronauts will wear when they step onto the lunar surface later this decade [David J. Phillip/AP]

Moonwalking US astronauts of the future will have sleeker and more flexible spacesuits as NASA is ditching the puffy white suits worn by Neil Armstrong and his fellow Apollo astronauts half a century ago.

The United States National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) on Wednesday unveiled the first prototype for a newly-designed next-generation spacesuit, specially tailored and accessorised for the first astronauts expected to venture back to the Moon’s surface in the next few years.

The future moon-wear was displayed at the Johnson Space Center in Houston during an event hosted for the media and students by Axiom Space. NASA awarded the Texas-based company a $228.5m contract to build suits for Artemis – the successor to the Apollo Moon programme.

The Artemis programme aims to return humans to the Moon in late 2025 for the first time since the historic Apollo missions ended in 1972, an initial step towards an eventual voyage to Mars.

The new suits, branded by Axiom as the “Axiom Extravehicular Mobility Unit” or AxEMU for short, are more streamlined and flexible than the old Apollo suits, with a greater range of motion and variability in size and fit.

The pressurised garment has multiple protective layers, a backpack with life-support systems as well as lights and a high-definition video camera mounted on top of the bubble-shaped helmet.

The “next generation spacesuits will not only enable the first woman to walk on the Moon but they will also open opportunities for more people to explore and conduct science on the Moon than ever before,” NASA’a administrator Bill Nelson said.

NASA said in a statement that the new suits would be tested in a “spacelike environment” prior to their use for the Moon mission.

“Inside of this box are all the parts and the components to keep you alive,” Russell Ralston, deputy program manager for extravehicular activity at Axiom Space, said of the suit’s “portable life support system”.

“You can think of it as like a very fancy scuba tank and air conditioner kind of combined into one,” Ralston said.

Designed to be worn for up to eight hours at a time, the new suits will fit a broad range of potential wearers, accommodating at least 90 percent of the US male and female population, NASA said.

The precise look of the suits, however, remained a closely guarded trade secret. Those on display Wednesday came with an outer layer that was charcoal grey with dashes of orange and blue as well as Axiom’s logo on the chest – intended to obscure Axiom’s proprietary outer fabric design.

The company said the suits to be worn on the lunar south pole by astronauts will be white because that is the best colour to reflect the harsh sunlight on the Moon’s surface and protect the wearer from extreme heat.

Vanessa Wyche, the Johnson Space Center director, said the new suit has “more functionality, more performance, more capability” than the bulky version worn by Apollo astronauts.

“We have not had a new suit since the suits that we designed for the space shuttle and those suits are currently in use on the space station,” Wyche said.

“So for 40 years, we’ve been using the same suit based on that technology.”

Axiom said it collaborated with costume designer Ester Marquis from the Apple TV+ lunar series For All Mankind to create the custom cover layer using Axiom’s logo and brand colours.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies