NASA has just released details of two new spacesuits and one of these prototypes is set to make history when worn by the first female astronaut to land on the moon.
The two suits each have a unique purpose.
The xEMU suite (Exploration Extravehicular Mobility Unit is intended to be used on the Artemis program which aims to launch the first woman to walk on the surface of the moon in 2024. The long term aim is to establish a presence there and there are hopes that it will help pave the way to future missions to Mars.
The xEMU suit has several new features that have been incorporated based on the experience of spacewalks. Specifically, the suit has been made more resistant to dust – essential because of the makeup of the moon's soil. It can also withstand huge changes in temperature from -25oF to 25oF in light of the temperatures that exist on the dark and light sides of the moon.
The backpack of the suit has been altered to include miniature versions of life-support equipment, allowing a back-up to be carried in case of a system failure or for use on longer walks on the surface. New materials and technology have been utilized to make the suit more flexible, allowing easier movement. Communication improvement includes a microphone directly embedded within the suit.
The xEMU suit has a wide range of interchangeable parts and the module design lends well to full customization; it can be set up according to the specific needs of the astronaut and where the suit will be used. It is possible to add extra layers in cases of extreme cold and the visor can now be easily replaced and repaired with no need to return it to Earth.
The Orion suit is a flight suit – used by the astronauts on the Artemis and Orion during launch and re-entry, during an emergency or in a high-risk situation. This has been improved on since the Space Shuttle missions and the helmet is no longer one-size-fits-all; it is fire resistant, can adjust to varying temperatures, is stronger, more comfortable and helps reduce noise levels to assist communication.
The Orion suit has been designed in a bright orange to make it easier to find astronauts when they must leave the capsule after re-entry and landing. The suits also have a built-in emergency survival kit. The Orion can sustain life for up to 6 days enabling an astronaut a better chance of returning to Earth if cabin pressure is lost.
Like the xEMU the Orion is also more mobile, it is custom-built to the astronaut and can be put on or taken off more quickly. The gloves are specially designed for protection and strength while taking into account the need to be flexible enough to use touch screen technology.
The next stage is that the suits will be subjected to testing in spaceflight conditions to ensure they perform before they are officially commissioned