NASA's Next-Gen Z1 Space Suit - Not Quite The Epitome Of Fashion, But Definitely More Versatile
If the current space suits worn by astronauts seem a little cumbersome and unwieldy, they are. That's because in order to protect the explorers, the suit has to be able to withstand extreme temperatures, space debris and be equipped with a rather bulky Primary Life Support Subsystem - A survival kit for astronauts that contains amongst other things, an oxygen tank, a device to get rid of the exhaled carbon dioxide, a battery, a radio and even a warning system in case the space walker needs to be rescued.
What's amazing is that this advanced suit was designed in 1992 and while it still works well, it was made to be used only for the International Space Station or Space Shuttles. Now that NASA is preparing scientists to go to frontiers beyond that, researchers are working on a new prototype. Designed to be worn by space scientists for everything - Ranging from exploring alien surfaces to floating outside a space station and even, weathering space radiation, the Z1 may not win many accolades from the fashion world, but it definitely is more versatile and easier to handle than the one currently being used.
The reason the designers have added all this functionality is because nobody knows for sure whether NASA's next mission will be to the moon, an asteroid or Mars. And while the Z1 prototype may look like a mishmash of material (some have even likened it to a garbage bag), it was designed to protect space explorers in almost any kind of situation.
The first and biggest improvement over the current space suit design is the amount of time it takes to put on. With an entry point at the back, the astronauts will be able to zip into the suit really quickly - Instead of the hour that it currently takes them.
The suit also has its own air-lock which means that astronauts will not have to waste time making sure that the internal and external pressure is equal. And while the cumbersome Primary Life Support Subsystem backpack (1) remains, it has received a major upgrade. Besides having all the tools for survival, it also doubles up as a hatch so that the astronaut can hook onto a space-ship or a Mar's rover-like vehicle without have to perform an hour long pre-breathing exercise to ensure the suit is the same pressure as the outside vehicle.
In addition to that, the Z1 also has built-in bearings (2) at the waist, hips, upper legs and ankles, all designed to provide astronauts with greater mobility - Something they are going to need in order to collect soil and rock samples whether they land on Mars or an asteroid.
The suit itself comprises of two layers (3) - An outer layer of urethane-coated nylon that retains air and an an inner polyester layer that allows the suit to hold its shape.
The prototype is currently being tested in a vacuum chamber at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas and if all goes well, may even be seen on the astronauts heading to Mars - As for the fashionistas? They will just have to live with this baggy but incredibly advanced suit that will help keep our space travelers safe!
Resources: dailymail.co.uk, popularmechanics.com, gizmondo.com