The first woman and the next man who will visit the lunar south pole in 2024 are expected to release NASA’s new spacesuits.
For parts, lighter and much more flexible and sophisticated to allow more complex tasks. So are the new spacesuit that NASA is developing to equip the first woman and the next man who will travel to the South Pole of the Moon in 2024, within the Artemisa lunar exploration program.
The US space agency today presented two prototypes of this new generation of suits from its headquarters in Washington.
“We are going to the Moon, we want to be sustainable, we want to be long periods on the Moon and orbiting it […] And we are going to Mars, and for that we need to use the Moon as a testing ground […] and new spacesuits”, said NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine.
One of the prototypes is designed for takeoff and re-entry into the Earth’s atmosphere. Orange, they have called it OCSS (the acronym for “Survival system of the Orion crew”). Dustin Gohmert, the NASA engineer in charge of the development of this model, was in charge of dressing and presenting it. This suit is designed to fit every astronaut. It incorporates security technology and is designed to protect astronauts during launch, in emergency situations, in parts of the high-risk mission near the Moon and during the return to Earth.
And the second one is designed for the exploration of the lunar south pole; it is a model that they have called «Extravehicular mobility unit for exploration», or XEMU (for its acronym in English), and although it reminds of the costumes used by astronauts of the International Space Station (EEI) to make their spacewalks , this new suit is modular and allows unprecedented flexibility: astronauts can turn their hips, walk on the moon’s surface instead of “rabbit hops,” as the Apollo 11 mission astronauts did, and kneel to collect samples ground. They can even move their fingers.
«They will have total capacity to perform any task that is required, or experiment. It is amazing what these new models allow, very different from the costumes of the past, ”said Bridenstine.
To prove it, one of the engineers who have participated in the design of the suit entered the presentation room equipped with the xEMU, decorated with the colors of the US flag, and collected without problems a stone from the ground, imitating the collection of astronaut samples. Far from the legendary image of the astronaut Harrison Schmidt falling face down on the lunar surface when trying to pick something up, the engineer performed the task with ease.
Safety and comfort
The new spacesuits are designed with astronaut safety as a top priority. Thanks to Apollo missions and later to robotics, scientists have a lot of knowledge about the lunar environment. It is known, for example, that the ground is made up of tiny crystals, such as splinters, so the suit has dust protection systems to prevent them from being inhaled or contaminating the life support system. In addition, it is capable of withstanding the extreme temperatures that occur on the Moon, 120 degrees below zero and as many above zero, depending on whether it is in the shade or in the sun.
The astronauts will carry a backpack, as seen in the spacewalks of the IEE, with oxygen to breathe, but also capable of eliminating carbon dioxide and other toxic gases, neutralizing moisture and odors. It also regulates body temperature and monitors that the suit is working properly. Thanks to the development of miniaturized technology, inside the backpack there is a duplicate of the entire life support system, both in case something fails and also to increase the duration of spacewalks.
Another important novelty is that NASA has completely redesigned the communications system inside the helmet. Until now they wore what in the slang of the astronauts they called «Snoopy helmet», in reference to the popular cartoon, which was quite uncomfortable: it made the astronauts sweat and the micro did not always work well. The new audio system consists of several microphones located inside the upper module of the suit that is activated with the voice.
The space agency believes that these new spacesuits could be adapted later for manned missions to Mars. And to avoid future controversies, such as the one that occurred in March, when NASA had to suspend what was going to be the first spacewalk for women due to a problem of lack of size, this time they designed the suits to suit all the sizes. To do this, a piece on the shoulder of the suit has an essential role, allowing to enlarge or reduce the size of the torso. Likewise, measurements with a 3D scanner of the astronaut’s body on the ground will allow them to be adapted to ensure that the pieces fit perfectly to their bodies.