Nasa shows off new space suit for 2024 Moon missions

Nasa has demonstrated its new ‘Orion’ astronaut suit which has been designed to be stronger and more comfortable for those who wear it.

The helmet is lighter, stronger, comes in more than one size, helps reduce noise and is easier to connect to the communications system needed to talk to other crew members and mission control.

The outer cover layer is orange to make crew members easily recognisable in the ocean should they ever need to exit the Orion capsule without the assistance of recovery personnel.

The suit is a pressure garment that includes a restraint layer to control the shape and ease of astronauts’ movements. A reengineered zipper also allows astronauts to quickly put the suit on and has increased strength.

Adaptable interfaces supply air and remove exhaled carbon dioxide, while the suit also has improved thermal management that will help keep astronauts cool and dry.

A liquid cooling garment is worn underneath the suit which has also been revamped to be more breathable and easier to build.

The suit is a crucial component needed for the space agency’s plan to return to the moon by 2024.

Two Nasa engineers donned the new spacesuits at the agency’s Washington headquarters, modelling and doing squats and crunches in front of a crowd of students and reporters.

“This is the first suit we’ve designed in about 40 years,” said Chris Hansen, a manager at Nasa’s spacesuit design office.

“What you saw today was a prototype of the pressure garment. The life support system is back in a lab in Houston,” he said. “We want systems that allow our astronauts to be scientists on the surface of the moon”

The Trump administration in March directed Nasa to land humans on the moon by 2024, accelerating a goal to colonise the moon as a staging ground for eventual missions to Mars.

Last month a top Nasa manager expressed doubts that the agency would be able to achieve the stated 2024 goal although he said the agency was doing its best.

The new suits come as a much-needed upgrade to Nasa’s astronaut wardrobe. Astronauts Christina Koch and Anne McClain were slated in March to conduct the first ever all-female spacewalk outside the International Space Station, but the mission was called off because there weren’t enough spacesuits available on the station for both of them.

Another attempt for the first all-female spacewalk, a roughly six-hour crawl on the exterior of the space station to fix its power systems, is due some time today.

The women will replace a broken battery power controller, rather than install new batteries, which was their original job.

In related space news, also announced today were the first fruits of the partnership between Virgin Galactic and Under Armour, as the two companies unveiled the world’s first exclusive spacewear system for private astronauts.

The collaboratively designed spacewear system for Virgin Galactic astronauts consists of a base layer, spacesuit, footwear, training suit and Limited Edition astronaut jacket. Under Armour is the 'Exclusive Technical Spacewear' partner of Virgin Galactic, following the announcement in January 2019 that the two companies would be working together.

“Virgin Galactic gave us an exciting challenge to build the world’s first commercial spacesuit,” said Kevin Plank, Under Armour founder and CEO. “Innovation is at the core of everything we do and our team delivered a unique twist on the classic spacesuit utilising both existing and new UA technologies to define space gear for the future.

"It is an incredible opportunity to showcase our key performance innovations in space at the highest level and continue to push the limits of human performance.”

The system will also be worn by Virgin Galactic Mission Specialists on board VSS Unity’s crewed test spaceflights, prior to commercial flights which are currently expected to commence in 2020.

The unveiling event in New York showcased the spacewear system on a zero gravity, vertical catwalk, led by Sir Richard Branson in the spacesuit he will wear on Virgin Galactic’s inaugural commercial spaceflight.

Sir Richard said: “Spacesuits are a part of the iconography of the first space age; our visual impressions of human spaceflight and what astronauts wear are inextricably linked. I love the way the spacewear looks and I love the way it feels. I also love the fact that the next time I put it on, I will be on my way to space.”

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