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Vote For NASA's Next-Gen Spacesuit Design

| 24 Mar 2014 20:40

The great minds at NASA want the internet to choose which design it will use for its Z-2 next-generation spacesuit prototype.

Space. It's not somewhere you want to go unprepared. You need a towel, you need a good blaster at your side, you need a co-pilot named Dave and you need a spacesuit. That last one is probably the most important of all, yet even though it's been 45 years since man first walked on the moon, the fact is that to the casual eye, spacesuits haven't really changed much.

But if humanity (which is to say, the United States) is going to rekindle its pursuit of manned space exploration, it's going to need better duds than the ones worn by Armstrong, Aldrin, Collins and company. It's going to have to be more durable, more reliable, more functional - and it's going to have to look good. And that, believe it or not, is where you come in.

"After the positive response to the Z-1 suit's visual design we received, we wanted to take the opportunity to provide this new suit with an equally memorable appearance," NASA wrote on its "Spacesuit Design Vote" page. "The cover layer of a prototype suit is important as it serves to protect the suit against abrasion and snags during the rigors of testing. With the Z-2, we're looking forward to employing cover layer design elements never used in a spacesuit before."

To ensure that we don't end up sending our first explorers to Mars in Krogan war suits, NASA has posted three potential designs to choose from: Biomimicry, which "reflects the qualities that protect some of the Earth's toughest creatures"; Technology, paying "homage to spacesuit achievements of the past while incorporating subtle elements of the future"; and Trends in Society, "reflective of what everyday clothes may look like in the not-too-distant future."

The three designs share some common elements, including the use of electroluminescent wiring in the torso and "integration of the suit-port concept with a hard upper torso suit structure" - which does actually have a Krogan-esque look about it. They all make use of impact-resistant composite structures throughout, and feature the "most conformal and re-sizeable upper hard torso" yet devised.

The Z-2 suit is expected to be complete by November, but as a prototype it won't actually be going into space. "We will be conducting multiple vacuum chamber tests, including one series at full vacuum, mimicking the lack of atmosphere found in outer space. The suit will be tested at the Neutral Buoyancy Lab (NBL), the huge indoor pool NASA uses to train every astronaut in the technique of spacewalking," NASA explained. "Further testing at a rocky Martian surface analog site at the Johnson Space Center along with other settings will help us evaluate mobility, comfort and performance of the suit. Ultimately, all of these tests will guide us in designing the next suit in the Z-series."

They're all cool, but my vote is going to Technology, which for some reason - the colors, perhaps - reminds me very much of the Turians. The logo on the front is also very nu-Cylon, which I dig. And since we're apparently taking part in the democratic process here, I'd like to propose that we call this one the Zoot Suit. Get it? Z-2 Spacesuit - Z-2 Suit. Zoot Suit! Right? Right?

Eh, you kids. Voting will remain open until midnight (EDT) on April 15 at NASA's Spacesuit Design Vote website.

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