Ingredients: One radical new entrance mechanism, a dash of Buzz Lightyear.
As part of a program to have a new suit spaceworthy and up to the International Space Station by 2017, NASA has completed testing on and approved a prototype it’s calling the Z-1. The principal design goal of the new suits is that, well, nobody knows where they’re going to have to go. NASA’s next decade or so could see the agency gearing up for all manner of different programs – and a variety of destinations on the moon or beyond. The suit is geared with two major features: Increased mobility and a large suit entrance port. The suit port is essentially a door on the back of the suit, through which the astronaut can easily step to be suddenly wearing the suit, effectively negating the need for an airlock by possibly attaching the suit to the side of the station. Finally, the suit will include increased radiation protection, allowing longer spacewalks than are currently feasible.
The flexibility of the suit was increased by adding bearings to the joints, helping solve the stiffness of current generation space suits. Of course, the astronaut will still be struggling with their own air bags, so don’t expect any astronaut acrobatics soon. The mobility combined with the radiation protection will give astronauts a lot of ability to explore extraplanetary environments in a way that they haven’t been able to, and the suit entrance port will make spacewalks much easier than in the past. NASA has now finished testing the Z-1, which was never intended to be more than a prototype, and Z-2 testing will begin fairly soon.
Here’s hoping they keep Buzz’s flashy green color scheme.