NASA Unveils New Spacesuit That First Woman on Moon Will Wear

NASA has unveiled two new prototype spacesuits, one of which will be worn by the first female astronaut when she steps foot on the moon.

The space agency introduced the new suits to the public during a presentation attended by administrator Jim Bridenstine on Tuesday at their Washington D.C. headquarters.

The two suits—known as the Exploration Extravehicular Mobility Unit (xEMU) and the Orion Crew Survival System—serve different purposes.

The white xEMU suit has been designed for use by astronauts on future lunar exploration missions in NASA's Artemis program. Artemis intends to land the "first woman and next man" on the moon by 2024 with a long-term goal of establishing a sustainable presence on the satellite. The space agency hopes that these missions will lay the necessary groundwork for future manned missions to Mars.

The new xEMU builds on the designs of spacesuits currently used by astronauts when they conduct spacewalks outside the International Space Station, although it boasts several advances, according to NASA.

Included in these improvements are a host of new safety features. For example, the suit is designed to be more dust-tolerant than its predecessors to prevent contamination with tiny glass-like shards, which are present in lunar soil.

The xEMU has also been designed to withstand the vast swings in temperature astronauts may experience on the moon, ranging from -250 F in the shade to 250 F in sunlight.

The various life-support components contained in the "backpack" of the suit have also been miniaturized, meaning there are now duplicates for many parts of the system—reducing the risk of critical failures with the oxygen supply or other critical features. Not only does this mean astronauts will be safer, but they will also be able to conduct longer missions outside the spacecraft.

NASA has also designed the suit to be much more mobile than previous designs, with the help of advanced materials and joint bearings that allow for more bending and freer movement.

The communication system in the helmet has also been revamped. Out go the old headsets known as "snoopy caps," which often made astronauts uncomfortable and sweaty. They also featured microphones that did not follow the movements of their heads very well. In comes a new audio system featuring microphones embedded into the suit that automatically pick up on the astronaut's voice whenever they are speaking.

As in previous missions, astronauts will still wear a diaper-like garment that absorbs excrement in the event that they need to relieve themselves during long spacewalks.

On top of all these features, the new eXMU suits will be customizable due to their modular design and interchangeable parts. This means the set-up of the suit can be modified depending on whether the astronaut is conducting a spacewalk outside a spacecraft or walking on a surface, whether it be on the moon or Mars. For example, an astronaut exploring Mars in winter may have special outer garments added to the suit to keep them warm.

Engineers have also equipped the suit's helmet with an easily replaceable visor, meaning that they won't have to send the helmet back to Earth for repairs if it gets damaged or worn.

The orange Orion suit, on the other hand, is designed for use by Artemis astronauts inside the upcoming Orion crew capsule during launch, emergency situations, high-risk parts of the mission, and re-entry back to Earth.

The so-called "flight suit" is an enhanced version of the one worn by astronauts on previous Space Shuttle missions. The new Orion helmet—which comes in more than one size—is lighter and stronger than previous space suits, providing astronauts with more comfort. It has improved noise-reducing abilities, enabling crew members to communicate more easily.

The suit is fire-resistant, and features new thermal management characteristics which can keep the astronauts cool and dry during launch and reentry.

The bright orange color makes it easier to spot astronauts in the ocean on Earth after reentry if they have to exit the spacecraft before recovery crews arrive. Furthermore, they are equipped with survival gear for this situation, including a rescue knife, a signaling kit, a mirror, strobe light, flashlight, whistle, flashlight, light, sticks and a personal location beacon.

new NASA spacesuits
Amy Ross, a spacesuit engineer at NASA’s Johnson Space Center (left) and NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine (second from left) watch as Kristine Davis, a spacesuit engineer at NASA’s Johnson Space Center, wearing a ground prototype of NASA’s new Exploration Extravehicular Mobility Unit (xEMU) and Dustin Gohmert, Orion Crew Survival Systems Project Manager at NASA’s Johnson Space Center, wearing the Orion Crew Survival System suit (right) wave after being introduced by the administrator, Tuesday, October 15, 2019 at NASA Headquarters in Washington. NASA/Joel Kowsky

Even though the suit is primarily designed for use during launch and reentry, it can keep astronauts alive for up to six days in their spacecraft if cabin pressure is lost, giving them a window to return to Earth (if they are traveling to or from the moon).

NASA has engineered the Orion suit to be more mobile than its predecessors, and it is designed to it can be put on quickly. Unlike Space Shuttle flight suits, the Orion will be custom-fitted to the body of each astronaut. The gloves of the suit have been enhanced making them more durable while also enabling the astronauts to use touch screens.

The space agency's new suits still need to undergo testing in a spaceflight environment to ensure that they perform as intended.