“A spacesuit is essentially a self-contained environment,” said Don Barker, a NASA leader in suit architecture, in a video released by the space agency this week. “It’s a mini spacecraft wrapped tightly around a human body.”
The video looks at some of the challenges NASA and its partners face when it comes to designing next-generation spacesuits for manned missions to the Moon in the coming years, and the first astronaut trips to Mars in the late 2030s or early. 2040s .
When it comes to the lunar missions, the biggest challenge facing space suit designers is how to maintain suit mobility while protecting the wearer from hazardous dust.
“If your life depends on a good seal and perfectly performing fabrics, dust is a big problem,” NASA said in the video.
Barker explains that dust on the moon is different from dust on Earth. “Moon regolite looks like it’s a fine-grained material when you see the pictures of the Apollo boots in it… But you’ll see everywhere from fractured rock shapes to broken glass shapes — that’s what it looks like under the microscope — from such a small particle size range that it ends up in everything.” And yes, those fragments can damage fabrics.
NASA points out that while astronauts on the Apollo missions 50 years ago needed only a few lunar walks in their suits, upcoming missions to the Moon and Mars could take weeks, months, or even years, so the suits must be durable enough to last. long-term exposure to moon dust.
Possible solutions include applying a special protective layer or charging the suits to repel dust, although the investigation is still ongoing.
Who makes the suits?
Last month, NASA has awarded contracts for spacesuit design to two companies, Texas-based Axiom Space and North Carolina-based Collins Aerospace.
Collins Aerospace has partnered with Oceaneering and ILC Dover, who designed the spacesuit used by lunar astronauts five decades ago, as well as for spacewalks outside the International Space Station (ISS) in more recent times.
The new spacesuits will be used for future spacewalks outside the ISS, but, most importantly, also for the Artemis III mission that aims to place the first woman and first person of color on the lunar surface before the end of this decade. If that landing goes smoothly, subsequent astronauts who stay on purpose-built lunar bases for extended periods of time will also use the suits.