NASA is leaving the design of their next-generation spacesuit prototype up to the public. A contest on the space agency’s website puts three designs up for a vote, with a fully-functional model to be built by November.
The NASA Z-2 suit is a follow up to the Z-1, which Time Magazine named ‘one of the best inventions of 2012.’ The Z-series marks the first major prototype developed since the Extravehicular Mobility Unit (EMU), the white suits used on space walks during the Shuttle program.
With a long-term focus on deep space missions, NASA will need a new spacesuit to replace its current stock of suits. Some of the technology used in the EMU is 40 years old. The futuristic Z-2 suit will make missions possible to asteroids or the surface of other planets. Some of the improvements under development include: a rear-entry “hatch” that could also dock with a rover, the use of “soft” materials to cut weight and increase mobility, complex joints and a redesigned life support system.
The Z-2 is a take-off from the popular Z-1 suit, likened to Disney’s “Buzz Lightyear” character. “After the positive response to the Z-1 suit’s visual design we received, we wanted to take the opportunity to provide this new suit with an equally memorable appearance,” a member of the engineering team said in a statement. “The designs were created with the intent to protect the suit and to highlight certain mobility features to aid suit testing.” It will also be the first spacesuit to use human laser scans for sizing, as well as 3D printed hardware.
Voters have three options for Z-2’s cover layer: “Biomimicry,” “Technology,” and “Trends in Society.”
The “Biomimicry” design draws parallels to another harsh environment — the ocean. NASA says its inspiration comes comes from the scaly skin of fish and reptiles, along with the bioluminescent qualities of aquatic creatures found at incredible depths.
“Technology” is a throwback to past spacesuit achievements, while incorporating subtle elements of the future. The design also features Luminex wire and light-emitting patches to identify astronauts.
“Trends in Society” is reflective of what everyday clothes may look like in the future. Incorporating electroluminescent wire and a bright color scheme, this option will mimic sportswear.
The winning prototype will be put through a host of tests in a vacuum chamber, underwater at NASA’s massive training pool, the Neutral Buoyancy Lab (NBL), and at a training site mimicking the surface of Mars.
Don’t expect to see these designs in Space anytime soon. NASA said the high-performance materials needed for spaceflight would prevent many of these features from being used. “For a flight suit which is actually used for a spacewalk, the cover layer performs many other important functions such as micrometeorite, thermal and radiation protection.”
Voting on the three concepts will end at 11 p.m. (EDT) on April 15. Visit this link to view the designs and vote: http://jscfeatures.jsc.nasa.gov/z2/
The results will be revealed by April 30.