“We didn’t have a new suit from the suits we designed for the Space Shuttle, and those suits are currently in use on the space station,” said Vanessa Wyche, director of NASA’s Johnson Space Center. “Well, 40 years, we’ve been using the same suit based on this technology.”
The suit was designed and built by Houston-based company Axiom Space, using some legacy NASA technology, plus a large glass helmet and black outer cover with orange and blue highlights. During the live stream, an Axiom engineer took the stage in the redesigned suit and demonstrated the improved mobility offered by the new joints in the legs, arms and gloves compared to the Apollo and Space Shuttle era suits, twisting, turning and kneeling with relative ease. The suits are also designed with modular components in a range of sizes to better fit astronauts of different body shapes and weights.
“We are developing a space suit for a new generation, the Artemis generation, the generation that will take us back to the moon and to Mars,” NASA Deputy Administrator Bob Cabana said at the unveiling. “When this first woman lands on the surface of the moon on Artemis III, she will be wearing an Axiom space suit.”
NASA had spent years developing its own next-generation spacesuits through the Exploration Extravehicular Mobility Unit (eXMU) program, but in June 2022, the space agency awarded contracts to both Axiom and Collins Aerospace to develop spacesuits for future missions. Unlike the batteries still in use on the International Space Station, NASA will only lease the suits, according to Lara Kearney, manager of NASA’s Extravehicular Activity and Human Surface Mobility program.
“Historically, NASA has had spacesuits,” Kearney said at the event. The spacesuit contract with Axiom is more like the deal NASA makes with SpaceX to fly crew and cargo to the space station with the Falcon 9 rockets and Dragon spacecraft. the company owns and manages the equipment and the agency just pays for services.
In addition to the economical settings, the new spacesuits include a number of improvements and advancements, many derived from NASA research and others unique to the Axiom. The suit consists of an inner bladder layer that holds air under pressure, covered by a retention layer that holds the shape of the bladder layer, according to Axiom’s deputy extravehicular activity program manager, Russel Ralston. An outer layer of flight insulation provides “cut resistance, puncture resistance, thermal insulation and a variety of other other features,” he explained at the event, and consists of multiple layers of material, including aluminized mylar.
More mobile joints, which will allow astronauts to better handle tools and maneuver around the rocky, heavily shadowed lunar South Pole, were developed on Axiom, Ralston said. Other features, such as the suit’s rigid upper torso—useful for connecting the life support system and tools—and a visor placed further back on the helmet for more visibility, were originally designed by NASA.
The design also features an entirely new cooling system compared to older suits, will carry a helmet-mounted high-definition camera, and allows astronauts to enter and exit the suit through a hatch at the back rather than coming under and over the suit separately. body. sections, as with current spacesuits.
Importantly, given NASA’s commitment to seeing a female astronaut lead the way back to the moon, the new suits are designed to fit a wide range of body sizes for all genders, according to Ralston. “We have different sizes of elements that we can exchange – a medium, a large and a small if you want – with different components,” he said at the press conference. “Then within each of those sizes, we also have customization where we can actually fit the suit to someone: their leg length or their arm length.”
Axiom continues to build on the space suit ahead of the Artemis III mission, including an outer layer of insulation that will include pockets and other accessories for tools and that will be made in white to reflect the harsh sunlight on the moon. The black, orange, and blue cover shown today is merely a temporary protective cover to prevent damage to the suit’s inner layers during testing and, according to an Axiom press release, hides elements of “proprietary design.”
Despite all the technological advances compared to the Apollo spacesuits of the 1960s and 1970s, some basic technologies are immune to improvement. Asked if Axiom had found a better way for astronauts to use the toilet while wearing the new shells for up to eight hours on the lunar surface, Ralson didn’t sugar coat it.
“Yes, we still use diapers in the space suit,” he said during the unveiling. “It’s honestly a very effective solution. Sometimes simplicity is best.”
NASA’s first mission in the Artemis moon program, Artemis I, was a successful uncrewed test flight of the agency’s massive Space Launch System rocket and Orion spacecraft. Artemis II, which will see four NASA astronauts complete a full orbit around the moon and return to Earth, is scheduled to launch in November 2024. Artemis III, which will mark the first time humans have stepped on the moon since 1972, is estimated to be released sometime next year.