NASA has showcased two new spacesuits in preparation for the first woman to land on the moon in 2024.
NASA’s preparations for a return to the moon are well underway, with it revealing its two new lunar mission spacesuits at a launch event last night (15 October). The first of the new suits is dubbed the Exploration Extravehicular Mobility Unit – or xEMU for short – and will be the one worn by astronauts when they touch down on the moon.
A notable difference with the xEMU suit compared with older lunar suits is the inclusion of the American colours of red and blue to the familiar white exterior. Speaking at the event, NASA spacesuit engineer and lead of the xEMU project, Amy Ross, said that the new suit is more comfortable to wear as well as being more flexible than the original Apollo mission suits and those used for spacewalks on the International Space Station (ISS).
With the aim of returning to the moon by 2024 as part of the Artemis programme, the suit will be used by the first woman to walk on the moon as well as the first man to return since Apollo 17 in 1972.
The second spacesuit revealed was the orange Orion Crew Survival System suit, designed to be worn by the astronauts to protect them during launch day, emergency situations, the riskiest parts of the near-moon mission and their rapid descent back to Earth.
Diversity in mind
According to Space.com, one of the Orion suit’s main features is that while it is a depressurised suit, it can pressurise in the case of an emergency. One example given was in the event that a spacecraft suddenly depressurises, allowing the astronaut to stabilise for up to six days.
From a design perspective, both suits were created with the idea of ensuring they don’t limit a person’s ability to complete a mission based on their gender. Earlier this year, the first all-woman spacewalk was postponed because there weren’t enough spacesuits of the right size for the woman astronauts on board the ISS.
According to Ross, achieving this required “modularity, and the sizing of those modular components to be able to mix and match to be able to build up a full suit configuration”. The xEMU was also designed to allow for a more comfortable fit and the ability to move the suit’s arms in a full circle.
NASA said that the plan is to have one xEMU suit flown to the ISS and two to the lunar surface within the next two years. Between now and 2024, it added, the design of the suit may still undergo alterations, especially in terms of the technology inside it.