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NASA Space Science

NASA's First New Spacesuit In 20 Years Is Its Own Airlock 164

Zothecula writes "The current U.S. space suit used by NASA is a dinosaur. Designed in 1992, it was only ever intended to be used by crews aboard the Space Shuttle and the International Space Station (ISS). That may have been good enough in the days of 14 kps modems, but with eyes turning increasingly toward missions to the Moon, Mars and the asteroids, space explorers need something better. That's why NASA is designing its first new suit in twenty years. Developed by NASA's Advanced Exploration Systems (AES), the Z-1 prototype space suit currently undergoing vacuum testing at the Johnson Space Center is a wearable laboratory of new technology. And it's a hatchback."
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NASA's First New Spacesuit In 20 Years Is Its Own Airlock

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  • by Anonymous Coward

    Um.... FTW!


  • by MrQuacker ( 1938262 ) on Friday July 27, 2012 @12:34AM (#40787169)

    and beyond!

  • snide remark.. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday July 27, 2012 @12:40AM (#40787189)

    20 years old and it is a dinosaur? You young'ins are obsessed with the Shiny.

    • That's only around, what, 1/10th of your lifespan, right? I hear ya. Not sure if you can hear me, though.

    • by mcgrew ( 92797 ) *

      I'm 60, but when it comes to tech, 20 years IS the stone age. Twenty years ago you were running DOS on a 486. Twenty years ago, cell phones were 4 years old and only rich people had them. Twenty years ago there were no DVDs, let alone Blu-rays.

      Did your car have ABS and air bags 20 years ago? Mine didn't.

      Throwing away tech because it's old is dumb (I've written about this, the link is a bit dated) [], but when a new technology is superior to the old technology (disk brakes rather than drum brakes) the old tech

  • by leftie ( 667677 ) on Friday July 27, 2012 @12:47AM (#40787231)

    Leaving a spacesuit docked on a ship and now having nothing but the structural integrity of that suit between a crew and hard vacuum doesn't sound like a particularly bright idea.

    • by EdIII ( 1114411 ) on Friday July 27, 2012 @01:05AM (#40787319)

      It doesn't seem that way. These suits can act a higher pressure which allows them to dock to the spacecraft in the first place. So they must be sturdier.

      Also, it's not like when the suit leaves that the ship is exposed to space. There must be an additional "hatch" that is closed around the suit opening to allow it to leave.

      So when docked you have the structural integrity of the suit itself (life support backpack plus suit plus helmet) and the structural integrity of the "hatch" that is not mentioned.

      It's not a full blown traditional airlock because there is not a separate space that has to have the pressure equalized before you can enter the space craft. In a way it is a mini-airlock because you will still need to equalize that small space in between the hatch and the suit.

      The greatest advantage to this is speed. No pre-breathing and cycle time in a big airlock. You could be out in space in minutes it sounds like, or less.

    • I'd be shocked if there weren't also a ship-interior cover for the hatch.

      • by mbone ( 558574 )

        I'd be shocked if there weren't also a ship-interior cover for the hatch.

        I believe that the rear hatch can be closed while it is docked..

    • Meh, the walls of the Apollo moon lander were literally made out of tinfoil, the astronaughts could easily have wrecked the cramped ship with a careless movement of an arm or a leg when they were putting on their suits (which they did in the lander, not beforehand on the orbiter).
      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward

        That's a common myth, the crew cabin was considerably sturdier since it was a pressure vessel keeping the atmosphere inside the crew cabin. What was "tinfoil" were the mylar thermal covers on the outside of the descent stage.

        • Accoring to Buz Aldrin, the panels were thin enough that they would pop during presurization and go 'bongggg...' - like an oil can.
          • by sFurbo ( 1361249 )
            Oil cans are quite a bit thicker than tin foil. You don't need to take special care to avoid breaking oil cans.
          • "oil-canning" (that sound) was normal, and the LEMs walls did it. It costs an automaker a fortune to prevent "oil-canning" on hoods and hatches, it wasn't a concern on the LEM.

            The walls were so thin that workers damaged them (even holed them) with their safety shoes. After delays due to the repairs, it became a work-order to remove shoes when working inside the nearly finished LEMs. The cover of the ascent engine was really vulnerable. IIRC it was the first production use of chemically-etched sheet meta

            • by cusco ( 717999 )
              One of the workers in the LEM dropped a screwdriver, which punched a hole in the floor. I know too much trivia . . .
        • by lxs ( 131946 ) on Friday July 27, 2012 @06:21AM (#40788513)

          The atmosphere inside was pure oxygen at 0.2 bar, allowing the walls of the LEM to be very thin. Still, more like an oil drum than like tinfoil.

        • by dpilot ( 134227 )

          I seem to remember reading/hearing that the LEM walls were on the order of soda-can thickness, or perhaps more like double that. We're talking order-of-magnitude here, it wasn't oildrum-thick, for instance. Someone else talked of the "ping" or "bong" sound/feeling when they pressurized it, and that squares with my source. In addition, a good pocket knife could have cut through the walls.

          • I seem to remember reading/hearing that the LEM walls were on the order of soda-can thickness

            I knew I should have used scare quotes for "tinfoil" :)
            Soda-can thickness is a good description of how I imagined it. Thick enough that it doesn't tear when it flexes but thin enough to rupture if you fell against it the wrong way.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      holy shit you're right. lucky you caught that or the scientists at NASA's Advanced Exploration Systems might've had a large problem on their hands.

    • So the docking connector is behind your head? And I assume you have to rotate it somewhat to fix it in position? That really sounds like it could be really awkward to actually dock with the spaceship.
    • by Toad-san ( 64810 )

      Bringing all the crap from outside inside isn't such a good idea either. The moon dust issues from all of the Lunar landings was a real eye-opener, and a serious problem they never did solve. That could easily have killed an entire crew.


  • Why even bother... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by stretch0611 ( 603238 ) on Friday July 27, 2012 @12:48AM (#40787235) Journal

    As much as I value the space program, I am questioning the need for designing a new space suit.

    Congress constantly targets NASA for budget cuts...

    With its limited budget NASA seems more interesting in robotic flights instead of manned flights. They seem to be using more things like the Mars Rover.

    We do not even have a space fleet right now. The shuttles have been mothballed and sold off as museum pieces and we now send people to the space station by buying them passage on soviet vessels launched out of Kazakhstan.

    The future of manned space flight seems to be private industry in the US. How come NASA is spending the money designing suits instead of the future space companies?

    • by Anonymous Coward

      I bet the suit started being designed 5 or 10 years ago when the situation right now seemed impossible. The project is finally finished since no one terminated it early. It happens especially in government agencies where the department would be canned once the project ends.

      • The space suit is actually vital
        A lot of what is limiting astronauts now is the amount of things they can do. Look at NASA's broadcast on repairs taking things out putting things in, things anybody can do.
        The suit also needs people to teach them how to put on. Desperate advancements are needed.
        Not to mention much needed improvements in dexterity which at first glance it does provide.
        Im quite surprised though they havent selected live suits(suits that mould to the body), which are available now

        • Im quite surprised though they havent selected live suits(suits that mould to the body), which are available now

          I'm not. Contamination is much less of a problem here - critical if you're going to be playing around in the dirt.

          With these things, it's only the back hatch surface that needs be cleaned/processed. With the form-fitting suits you are thinking of, the whole thing needs to be handled.

          Plus, it looks like you can suit up in these much quicker. Each suit might well be usable as a life pod, if you will - especially if you can close it up but keep your environmentals from the main vehicle (just because the cabin

    • ...the government pays 3 times as much for private business to provide half the service that was being provided, and a few Anglo-Saxon guys pocket the rest of the cash.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Friday July 27, 2012 @02:24AM (#40787687)

      Because governments spend money to make things that do not generate profit. Thats one of the reason FOR a government. It is not a business. It is for the public good. This space suit will not generate money, it will generate science. Knowledge. You know, things that we are beneficial for mankind, yet make no money on their own. A corporation would be sued by its share holders for doing something like that. Unless it had a clear profit motive.

      The "space companies" will be sending satellites into orbit (or tourists), not going to Mars. They will be in it for the money. When WE, as a PEOPLE, want to go to another planet, we need a government to do it.

    • by PolygamousRanchKid ( 1290638 ) on Friday July 27, 2012 @02:43AM (#40787755)

      Congress constantly targets NASA for budget cuts...

      Congress cuts NASA's budget when the money is not being spent in enough Congressional Districts. NASA isn't about space to Congress. To them it is about getting federal money spent where it helps them get re-elected.

      So if the new space suit is constructed of components built in all 435 Congressional Districts, the budget for the suit will not be cut. Really simple, isn't it?

      The 1st Congressional District of New Jersey, Camden County, gets to make the middle finger of the right hand! Youse guys gotta prowblem wid dat?

    • That is more or less the first thought that I had. "What the heck does NASA need with a spacesuit?"
      They are not even able to a man into space anymore.

      I have to say, growing up, I never imagined that there would be a day when the USA was no longer able to go into space. That we must buy passage from my childhoods boogieman. I always thought that surely, by the time I am a grown man, the average person would be able to go into space.

      On the other hand, maybe it is better that NASA is out of the picture. It doe

      • by turbidostato ( 878842 ) on Friday July 27, 2012 @06:02AM (#40788443)

        "It does seem that the few private companies are making more progress in 5 years than NASA can in 15"

        Private companies are not even at Gemini level; that's about NASA's 45 years ago, so I'd say you are a bit overenthusiastic, don't you think so?

        • by Zak3056 ( 69287 )

          Private companies are not even at Gemini level; that's about NASA's 45 years ago, so I'd say you are a bit overenthusiastic, don't you think so?

          To be fair, I don't think NASA is at that level anymore, either.

          • by Hadlock ( 143607 )

            John Carmack (id software, armadillo aerospace) was pointing out that NASA was shipping their rocket scientists out to Armadillo Aerospace's test lab* to see what rockets actually look like, because NASA hasn't actually done any research or construction of their own in so long, they have nothing to train their incoming scientists with.
            *by test lab, I mean a hangar in the middle of a grassy field, but hey, it has rockets in there, so call it what you will

            • by mbone ( 558574 )

              I am not going to doubt his word, so it presumably happened, but it is also bullshit. NASA has plenty of rocket research going on. Right now, for example, NASA is testing the J2X rocket for the SLS [] at Stennis. If you look at the link, you will see considerably better facilities than a hanger in a field.

              NASA is a big organization, with lots of parts, and it is certainly conceivable that some center sent somebody inexperienced to see what was going on at Armadillo, but if those were real rocket people, I sus

              • by Hadlock ( 143607 )

                John Carmack gives a talk every year after the keynote at quakecon about what's going on at Armadillo Aerospace. His annual talks are on youtube, and if I run out of things to do at work later, I'll find you the link.

      • On the other hand, maybe it is better that NASA is out of the picture. It does seem that the few private companies are making more progress in 5 years than NASA can in 15.

        It is precisely because of that right wing knee-jerk "government is bad, business is good" reaction that the US doesn't have an up to date space programme.

        Private companies may be able to get a few rich tourists into space, that's just a sideshow.

        • It is precisely because of that right wing knee-jerk "government is bad, business is good" reaction that the US doesn't have an up to date space programme.

          Private companies may be able to get a few rich tourists into space, that's just a sideshow.

          What the hell are you on about? How is what I said a knee jerk reaction? Did you even read my post. I start the post by saying how depressing it is that NASA is in such a poor state. That seems to indicate that I LIKE NASA and want them to go into space.

          And, I said they have made more PROGRESS than NASA had in 15 years. I did NOT say that they were ahead of NASA. There is a difference. Many of these private firms were starting from scratch. Well, ok with a lot of knowledge gotten from NASA.

      • That isn't so much a NASA problem as it is a Congress problem. Everything takes 15 years and costs 3 times what it should because Congress wants it that way. That is what happens when you have to please 535 politicians.

    • by Synn ( 6288 )

      Consider that any mission has a set amount of time it can function in. That time has a huge amount of cost associated with it. So if you can save 15 minutes of time for a person to don a spacesuit on a spaceflight you're likely saving a huge amount of money. The same if the suit's newer mobility allows for in space work to be done 10% faster.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    NASA outsourced this particular suit design to Hasbro, who then produced it under a license from Disney/Pixar.

  • Meh. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Altanar ( 56809 ) on Friday July 27, 2012 @12:55AM (#40787269)
    Was hoping for something more like this: []
    • AFAIK that suit is stitched by hand and custom fitted to the person. Assuming it actually works it is neither cheap nor practical to produce.
      • Re:Meh. (Score:5, Interesting)

        by aXis100 ( 690904 ) on Friday July 27, 2012 @04:03AM (#40788033)

        Also, where do you put your testicles? It's all well and good to show a woman in the suit, but I wouldnt want mechanical counter-pressure on my block and tackle.

        • by Ogive17 ( 691899 )
          Cod piece... that's what it looks like from the illustration at the bottom of the linked page.
      • Another problem with the suit is that your body shape changes dramatically during long-duration microgravity. Astonauts will show up at Mars with significantly skinnier legs and bulkier torsos than they had on Earth.

    • I wasn't aware that Asics made space sneakers.
    • by doom ( 14564 )
      Precisely: skin tight space suits are the only way to go, if NASA wants anything like a budget in the near future. Space flight without skin tight space suits is like a symphony orchestra without plunging necklines.
  • N00b (Score:4, Funny)

    by Lord Kano ( 13027 ) on Friday July 27, 2012 @12:57AM (#40787279) Homepage Journal


  • Soviets (Score:5, Informative)

    by seawall ( 549985 ) on Friday July 27, 2012 @12:57AM (#40787283)
    I believe the Soviets had a "hatch-back" earlier. I expect it makes suiting up quite a bit faster and simpler.
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Yes, Orlan is rear entry (and doesn't require pre-breathing) but there is none of the docking capability. They don't emphasize it that much, but that is actually a pretty big deal for planetary operation where it's just about the perfect solution to dust issues.

    • Yep, the old Krechet suit, designed for working on the moon. I'm pretty sure I saw video of someone donning one in Skylab once, too.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Well... in comic form anyway.

  • by geezer nerd ( 1041858 ) on Friday July 27, 2012 @01:32AM (#40787445)
    When I saw this, my first thought was that it looked a lot like suits that sci-fi moviemakers have imagined over the years.
  • Drawings in speculative fiction from the fifties.

    • by tibman ( 623933 )

      Except lower resolution. These pictures look like they came from an older camera-phone.

  • by Anonymous Coward


  • What I want to know is how this suit will work with other space systems out there, and how it will work with the commercial partners private spacecraft. Have they been clued in on this? Do they have the engineering specs, or are they going to have to design their own suits from scratch? I've heard little about the commercial space partners and space suits, so I am really curious as to how this effort can help us keep redundancy low while allowing us to have diversity with the current systems we are inves
  • by mseeger ( 40923 ) on Friday July 27, 2012 @04:53AM (#40788225)

    Now they have a new space suite, they must travel ;-).

  • That may have been good enough in the days of 14 kps modems

    ...but now we need spacesuits with ADSL?

  • 2 things (Score:4, Interesting)

    by AdmiralWeirdbeard ( 832807 ) on Friday July 27, 2012 @05:20AM (#40788327)

    1. wasnt this on Top Gear last year? when james may drove around the lunar rover they're never going to actually use? pretty sure it was.

    2. the phrase 'rear entry spacesuit' is fucking hiLARious.

    • Yeah, I thought the same - and yes it was. However, I think that was just a demo sort of thing, and not real. I guess they've actually done the science to make it work for real this time.

      I have to say, this is a good thing - it's something like 4 hours of you and your buddy squeezing you into the current suits, and then several hours packed into an airlock with your tools and whatnot. Being able to step into the suit, and maybe even zip it up yourself (or with help), and then have them slam the door shut be

  • old idea? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by zmollusc ( 763634 ) on Friday July 27, 2012 @06:38AM (#40788581)

    It made me think of the film Andromeda Strain (1969), but while googlising for a picture, I found this 1954 image from a nuclear facility. []
    Yes, these have 'tails', but the climbing-in-through-the-back part is there.

  • That author's photo at the end is bloody terrifying...

    Back on topic... I wonder what the mechanisms are for the new CO2 scrubbers.

  • This is an old idea. I believe the old Apollo missions' suits were designed this way to prevent the fine (and very sharp) dust of the moon from contaminating the lunar module. Can't believe we've regressed so far.

  • [] People need space pods instead (like in 2001). Why would anyone want to put on a space suit in space? If you need something in an emergency, NASA has a big bag people can go into developed for the shuttle. If you need to go into a confined space, use a tele-operated small robot. Can anyone cite any reason to put a person in a "space suit" suit other than for generating "people in space" publicity? Shirt-sleeve pods are also much more comfortable than space s

In the realm of scientific observation, luck is granted only to those who are prepared. - Louis Pasteur