At first glance, the new NASA space suit to be used in Artemis missions (back to the moon in 2024) might resemble the costumes astronauts wear for spacewalks outside the International Space Station today.
However, 21st century lunar walkers will be able to perform much more complex tasks than their predecessors, thanks to technological advances that began even before the Apollo program.
Space suits are not only a classic icon of human space exploration, but they are also a custom spacecraft that mimics all the protections of the hostile environment of space and the basic resources that Earth and its atmosphere provide.
The new suit that will be worn in Artemis missions is called the Extravehicular Mobility Unit of Exploration, or xEMU for short. Its history is a history of the evolution of engineering, which goes back to the spacesuits that were used in the Mercury Program.
Here is a summary of the 21st century updates to the suit that the next moon walkers will wear in the Artemis missions:
Until Apollo 11, the main concern with the lunar soil was that it would not support the weight of a landing module or astronauts inside.
We now know that the greatest danger is that the ground is composed of small fragments of glass, so the new suit has a set of dust-tolerant features to prevent inhalation or contamination of the life support system of the suit or other spaceship.
The suit is also designed to withstand extreme temperatures of minus 250 degrees Fahrenheit in the shade and up to 250 degrees in the sun.
The portable life support system is the family backpack that astronauts use on spacewalks that houses the energy of the suit and breathable air and eliminates exhaled carbon dioxide and other toxic gases, odors and moisture from the suit.
It also helps regulate the temperature and controls the overall performance of the suit, issuing warnings if resources fall low or if there is a system failure.
Artemis astronauts will be more agile than ever with mobility improvements in the new suits.
It’s fun to watch Apollo astronauts jumping like a bunny, but the effort required to move that way was more than NASA would have wanted for its explorers who were more than 400,000 kilometers from their home.
The pressure garment is the part of the human-shaped space suit that allows astronaut mobility and protects your body from the external environment, including extreme temperatures, radiation, micrometeorites and reduced atmospheric pressure.
The main components of the pressure garment are the upper part of the torso, the helmet, the lower part of the torso and the cooling garment.
The new lower torso includes advanced materials and articulation bearings that allow bending and rotating at the hips, increasing knee flexion and hiking-style boots with flexible soles.
In the upper part of the torso, in addition to the updated shoulder placement, other improvements in the shoulder allow astronauts to move their arms more freely and easily lift objects over their heads or reach their body with the pressurized suit.
Shoulder mobility in the Apollo was made possible by the folds in the fabric with cable pulleys that provided a mechanical advantage to move the shoulders up and down, but limited the ability to rotate the joint.
Inside the hull, NASA has redesigned the communications system.
Headphones, sometimes called “snoopy caps,” in the costumes used today can become sweaty and uncomfortable inside the helmet, and the microphone does not always follow the astronaut’s movements well.
The new audio system includes multiple, embedded, voice-activated microphones inside the upper torso that automatically capture the astronaut’s voice when they talk to their spacewalk companions, their crew mates aboard the Gateway station or mission control in Houston.
Astronauts will continue to wear a diaper-like garment during spacewalks that is a combination of commercial products sewn for maximum absorption.
Although space explorers generally prefer not to use it, it is there in case they need relief during a spacewalk that can last for many hours.
The new suit is designed with interchangeable parts that can be configured for spacewalks in microgravity or on a planetary surface.
The suit could be updated by differences in the Martian environment, including additional technology for life support functionality in the atmosphere rich in carbon dioxide and modified outerwear to keep the crew warm in the winter of Mars and prevent overheating In the summer season.
A new feature in the improved design of the suit is the rear entry hatch. Astronauts will be able to get on a space suit from the back of the suit, allowing the elements of the shoulder of the upper hard torso to be closer together than the suits currently in use.
Improved shoulder placement increases mobility and allows for better adjustment while reducing the risk of shoulder injuries.
The lower torso , which includes pants and boots, will be modified from the current suit to accommodate partial gravity mobility, because astronauts floating in space do not need to use their legs or feet almost as much as those who walk or drive a rover on a planetary surface.
The helmet for the Artemis mission suits will also feature a quick-exchange protective visor. The transparent protective visor is a shield that protects the pressurized bubble from any wear or tear and scratches from abrasive dirt of planetary bodies.
The quick swap function means that astronauts can replace the viewfinder before or after a spacewalk instead of sending a full helmet to Earth for repair.
Before the first woman and the next man take a step at the lunar South Pole in 2024, NASA will test the new suits and several of their components at the International Space Station in a spaceflight environment to confirm overall performance.