You have probably seen pictures of astronauts taking a “space walk” in an EVA suit. Astronauts have worn similar suits during extra-vehicular activity since the 1960s and the suits have not been updated in nearly 20 years. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) recently unveiled a new spacesuit for the next generation of astronauts.
Some critics of the new NASA Z-1 prototype spacesuit claim it looks too much like the suit worn by Disney’s Toy Story character Buzz Lightyear. Some say this is partially because it is white and green. However, the suit is more than meets the eye. It is a step forward in protecting astronauts. Many have wondered why it took NASA so long to make the change.
One of the biggest advances made to the Z-1 prototype spacesuit is the way the astronaut gets into the suit. The astronaut will enter the suit from the rear, which will make it easier and quicker to get into when they need to exit the space shuttle, International Space Station or to walk on the surface of a distant planet. Currently, it takes an astronaut about an hour to get into their suit.
Another advantage is that the suit will reduce the need to spend time in an airlock before they are able to leave the vessel. The suit, officially named the ‘Z-1 Prototype Spacesuit and Portable Life Support System (PLSS) 2.0’, will act as its own airlock. The suit, expected to be ready in a couple of years, will also include a backpack that will connect to a Rover-like vehicle or space ship that will reduce the need for ‘Prebreathing’ to ensure the suit has the same pressure as the ship.
The spacesuit designers also redesigned the joints of the Z-1 prototype. This will allow astronauts to move more freely while in space. There are also better bearings at the waist, hips, ankles and legs. The suit will also have urethane-coated nylon and polyester layers. This will enable the suit to handle pressure more efficiently than previous spacesuits. It will also cool better and remove carbon monoxide easier. Overall, the improvements will make EVA walks easier and safer for the astronauts.
Will this new Z-1 spacesuit become the normal suit for future space flights? Chances are it will not. Designers of the suit acknowledge the suit is part of a series of suit changes. This one enables NASA to test different elements and technologies that will be added into potential designs. In fact, the lead of the Space Suit Assembly Technology Development team, Amy Ross, explained how the “data we’re gathering now will feed tools that will help us build better suits in the future” particularly if NASA is planning a trip to Mars in the not too distant future.
Useful related links
- Z series (space suits) – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
- Nasa reveals new spacesuit – but was it designed by a fan of Buzz Lightyear? | Mail Online
Nasa’s next generation of space suit – the agency’s first in 20 years – will look familiar to fans of computer generated cartoon classic Toy Story.