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5/2/2014
09:54 AM
Elena Malykhina
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NASA's Next Spacesuit: Mars Fashion

NASA reveals its latest prototype of the "Z" series spacesuit, designed for humans to walk on Mars by the 2030s.
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NASA has revealed the design for its next prototype spacesuit to be used for Mars missions. The prototype, dubbed Z-2, offers better mobility and, unlike current spacewalking suits, is designed to handle the red planet's harsh environment.

NASA chose the Z-2's look based on votes from visitors to a website dedicated to the new spacesuit. The site gave voters three concept designs from which to choose, dubbed "technology," "biomimicry," and "trends in society." All three designs were created by suit vendor ILC and Philadelphia University. The biomimicry design depicts a suit that emulates the bioluminescent qualities of aquatic creatures. The trends suit reflects how everyday clothes might look in the future. However, it was the Tron-like technology design that won following 233,431 public votes.

The Z-2 is the latest prototype in NASA's next-generation spacesuit platform, called the Z-series. The Z-2 builds on the previous prototype of the Z-1 suit. It is the first "surface-specific planetary mobility suit" to be tested in a complete vacuum, and to use 3D human laser scans and 3D-printed hardware, according to NASA. Additionally, it has impact-resistant composite structures on the upper and lower torso. It's the most re-sizeable hard-upper-torso suit built so far.

Another big difference between the two prototypes is the materials they're made of. The Z-1 had a soft upper torso, while the Z-2 has a hard composite upper torso. NASA said the hard upper torso offers long-term durability that a planetary extra-vehicular activity (EVA) suit requires. The shoulder and hip designs also differ. The Z-2 has several improvements that take into account the movement of complex joints.

The materials used on the Z-2 are intended for a full-vacuum environment. NASA is currently planning a comprehensive test campaign for Z-2 to see how it performs in an environment that mimics the lack of atmosphere found in space. The suit will be tested at the Neutral Buoyancy Lab, an indoor pool that NASA uses to train astronauts to spacewalk. NASA will conduct further testing at a rocky Martian-surface analog site at the Johnson Space Center to evaluate the suit's performance.

The final version of the suit is expected to be ready for testing by November. Lessons learned from the tests will then be used to design the Z-3.

NASA has set an ambitious goal to send humans to Mars in the 2030s, so developing a spacesuit for that mission is on the agency's list of priorities. However, the Z-series prototype is still in a non-flight phase, which means it won't be making a trip to space just yet. Click through our slideshow to learn more about the spacesuit's design and capabilities.

Image: NASA

Elena Malykhina began her career at The Wall Street Journal, and her writing has appeared in various news media outlets, including Scientific American, Newsday, and the Associated Press. For several years, she was the online editor at Brandweek and later Adweek, where she ... View Full Bio

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Gary_EL
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Gary_EL,
User Rank: Ninja
5/4/2014 | 9:21:53 PM
Re: New suits are a necessity
@Brian
"smaller, stronger and durable", as you say - just what a spacesuit needs to be. Your comments inspired me to do a quick google search for nano and spacesuit, and I was disapointed to see that at this point, as least as far as easily obtainable public information is concerned, it seems that this is still in the speculative phase. But, not only speculation, but also serious research being backed by serious money at the best academic and corporate labs. I think it be a classical case of the initial seed being planted by the military and the government, and as soon as it starts to bud, even bigger money from industry will start to flow in, with earth (and space) shaking results.


 
Brian.Dean
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Brian.Dean,
User Rank: Ninja
5/4/2014 | 7:48:29 PM
Re: New suits are a necessity
Interesting point, products are beginning to emerge that use nano materials to make it smaller, stronger and durable, a motor has been built on the atomic scale, nano particles are being used to make solar cells, and the list goes on. But, a spacesuit is being created that might be deployed in the 2030s and the word "nano" was not used by NASA, considering the weight concerns, maybe Z-3 will not be the final version.
Brian.Dean
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Brian.Dean,
User Rank: Ninja
5/4/2014 | 7:24:01 PM
Re: Mars suit
Reminds me of fractals that require a huge amount of computational power to create, it would have been next to impossible to discover them without technology. Looking forward, it provides a great opportunity to create patterns and structure that is closer to nature and stronger, rather than building brick and concrete structures, everywhere.
Brian.Dean
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Brian.Dean,
User Rank: Ninja
5/4/2014 | 7:10:32 PM
Re: Mars suit
Good point, it should be taken into consideration that the suit should not be camouflaged and using a color scheme is nice to showcase that the space traveler is from a world that is mostly water. However, it's not like Mars is teaming with life. On the flip side, a good looking suit will make for an excellent broadcast and tracking technology can today locate a space traveler on the other side of the red planet, there is no telling the progress that tracking technology will make in the next 15 years.
MarkmBha
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MarkmBha,
User Rank: Apprentice
5/4/2014 | 2:32:20 PM
Re: Trends of the past
Nasa must start somewhere!
MarkmBha
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MarkmBha,
User Rank: Apprentice
5/4/2014 | 2:18:43 PM
Re: Good Info
Do not post crap like this on this website!
MarkmBha
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MarkmBha,
User Rank: Apprentice
5/4/2014 | 2:06:23 PM
WHAT ARE THEY THINKING?
What is NASA thinking with these hideous suits?

The design looks quite unfunctional, and ugly!
MountweisInfo
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MountweisInfo,
User Rank: Apprentice
5/3/2014 | 10:36:45 PM
Re: New suits are a smoke screen
NASA is preparing (or pretending to prepare) for a Mars expedition by planning to capture an asteroid. It is an absurd idea because any sane person understands that a base on the moon is a way to prepare for mars, not tiny asteroid. Why? Because moon has much more similarities with mars, than a tiny asteroid. You can test landing rockets, liftoff rockets, vehicles, robots in the moon, not to mention a long term human settlements could be tested. Nothing like this can give you a schizoid asteroid. 

This is why NASA put a smoke screen: space suits for Mars! Thirty years in advance. It is like buying a dress for your daughter's wedding at the moment you found out your wife is pregnant with a girl. An idiotic, idiotic smoke screen with an attempt to cover NASA fundamental blunder with capturing asteroid.

 
Li Tan
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Li Tan,
User Rank: Ninja
5/3/2014 | 10:09:08 PM
Re: New suits are a necessity
There is no doubt that exploring Mars is not a trivial task. Considering the physical condition of Mars, it makes sense to have new suit. This one looks really cool. One more question, does it have embedded weapon system? There has always gossip about aliens on Mars around - some of them may not be friendly.:-)
moonwatcher
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moonwatcher,
User Rank: Strategist
5/3/2014 | 8:30:10 PM
New suits are a necessity
The current suits are far to heavy to use on Mars. They are big, bulky suits designed for zero-G (for use in servicing the International Space Station). Even the old Apollo suits were lighter and they were manageable in 1/6th G on the moon (if not very comfortable, nor flexible). Mars has a lot more gravity (0.38 G), so much lighter, easier to use, quicker to put on and take off, and more comfortable suits need to be developed. I'm just not sure I like these particular looking ones. Usually in engineering, form follows function, not the other way around. Going back to the moon and using it as a testing ground for potential Mars use technologies would be a good way to insure that mission's eventual success. 
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