NASA is working on a radical new design of spacesuit ready for a return to the Moon and even a trip to Mars. The new suit is part of the Constellation exploration programme, which has found its astrotailors exploring the other final frontier: deep under the sea.
MIT's Technology Review has seen the first-generation prototypes of the suits, developed by deep-sea experts Oceaneering International with David Clark Company, which has been making jet pilot and astronaut suits since World War II. Cleverly, the suits are modular, with multipurpose arms, legs, boots and helmets attaching to task-specific torso units. As well as making life easier for the astronauts, who will be able to move more freely, the lightness of the suits is useful as every bit of weight has to be accounted for in space flight.
There are two torso configurations for the suit. The first is a soft torso for launch and re-entry, and general bobbling about in zero gravity or in the sea upon splash-landing. The second features a hard torso with life support and on-board computer that connects to the Web. This system even has improved downwards visibility for walking on the Moon, where giant steps are what you take.
The soft pressure suits boast accordion-shaped joints for easier movement, while a Kevlar sleeve protects the outside from micrometeors flying about the place. No word yet on whether the suit requires space undercrackers.
These are the first developments in a $500m, six-and-a-half-year development contract. Prototypes will be delivered to NASA in the next two years, with the suits ready well ahead of NASA's planned return to the Moon in 2020. The suits could even go to Mars.