Since long before the first segment of International Space Station was launched in 1998, NASA astronauts have depended on the same spacesuit technology. However, that will soon change, as NASA has spent the past few years working with the private company Axiom Space to finally update their spacesuit design.
Axiom rolled out the latest version of their spacesuit prototype, called the Axiom Extravehicular Mobility Unit (AxEMU), during a press conference on Wednesday, March 15. NASA aims to use Axiom’s new suit not only for astronauts carrying out spacewalks on the ISS, but also for their upcoming trip to the Moon’s south pole during Artemis 3, currently planned for 2025.
“We have not had a new suit since the suits that we designed for the space shuttle, and those suits are currently in use on the space station,” said Vanessa Wyche, director of the NASA Johnson Space Center, during the event. “So 40 years we’ve been using the same suit based on that technology.”
More mobility, more features
During the presentation, one of Axiom’s engineers lunged and waved to the crowd, showing off the suits updated mobility features. Other features of the AxEMU include lights on the helmet, well-insulated boots, additional general improvements, and fits available to accommodate the majority of the population.
“We have different sizes of elements that we can swap out — a medium, large, and small, if you will — for different components,” said Russell Ralston, deputy program manager for Extravehicular Activity at Axiom Space, during the presentation. “But then, within each of those sizes, we also have an adjustability to where we can really tailor the suit to someone — the length of their leg or the length of their arm or things like that.”
Although the sleek suit showed off during the event is covered in orange, black, and navy material, that color scheme was only chosen for the presentation to help keep the company’s proprietary technology under wraps. The true color of suits heading to the Moon will be white, which is the best option for reflecting solar radiation.
In the past, NASA has designed and owned their own spacesuits. However, in this partnership with Axiom Space, the company will be the owner of the technology, as well as be responsible for the design, development, and production of related flight-training spacesuits and support equipment. Axiom will also test the suits in a space-like environment, according to a NASA news release.
The Artemis 3 mission will send the first woman and first person of color to the Moon. The mission is meant to search unexplored areas of the Moon, help establish a long-term lunar presence, and ultimately help NASA prepare for the possibility of future crewed trips to Mars.