It’s not your daddy’s space suit. It’s been a long time in the making, but the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has finally realized the need for new space suits is overdue. In part, this recognition happened even before problems were noted with water seepage into an existing suit during a spacewalk at the International Space Station.
It has been clear for some time that, even without any malfunction, the space suit needed a revamp. While Houston will be addressing the mechanical side of things, they've left the fashion element to a group of art students at Philadelphia University, who have come up with three prototypes for what will be called the Z-series suits, which they hope will be in use by in NASA’s Mission to Mars project in 2030.
The suit will undergo testing in a number of harsh climates, including a “vacuum chamber, a huge indoor pool and at a large rocky yard that mimics the surface of Mars,” according to ABC News. The first prototype should be ready for testing in November 2014.
A splash of color
The most immediately identifiable change in the proposed new suits designed by the Philadelphia University students is color. While the traditional space suit has always been white, and for good reason, the new suits use color, albeit muted. According to the New York Daily News, in the past white suits have been de rigueur for at least two reasons: the color deflects heat, and white suits make astronauts easy to spot against the black backdrop of space.
The new suits use other, more updated technological means of achieving the same effect in color. For example, in the first proposed new suit for astronauts, Biomimicry, the suit has built-in mirrors that copy the bioluminescence of creatures deep under the ocean's depths. As a result, the suit itself is a nod to the other great parallel mystery to space: the magic of deep-water oceans. The second suit, Technology, features light-emitting patches to identify astronauts. The third, Trends in Society, is a foreshadowing of what these students envision we'll all be wearing some day in the not-too-distant future.
Getting the public interested
All three suits feature color and protective padding (a necessary feature). However, the new suits are also less bulky, which is an important innovation for future space work on planets (which have gravity), where bulk can weigh astronauts down. “We've always known we need a different suit for when we get to Mars,” suggested NASA Spokesman Daniel Huot.
Ironically, more than a few people have insinuated that the new space suits have a look akin to the one worn by Buzz Lightyear of the kids’ flick, “Toy Story.” In part NASA turned to these art students, and now to the public for comments, in the hope of getting more people interested in the science behind the suits. Noted NASA Spokesman Huot, “We thought if we could get people’s interest because they think something looks cool, maybe we can teach them a bit about science along the way.”
Currently voting for the space suit of the future is under way online and continues through Apr. 15, 2014. To date, notes ABC News, more than 75,000 members of the public have already cast their ballots. The Technology suit, with 65 percent of the vote, is currently in the lead.