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NASA asks public to vote on Z-2 spacesuit design

By

March 27, 2014

The Trends in Society design (Image: NASA)

The Trends in Society design (Image: NASA)

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NASA has gone a touch sartorial as it asks the public to vote on the design of its new prototype Z-2 spacesuit. Part of the Advanced Suit development program to come up with a replacement for the 22-year old suit designs currently used on the International Space Station, the Z-2 not only includes a number of technical innovations, but also a design that for the first time has an eye on the aesthetics of living and working in outer space.

In 2012, NASA showed off its Z-1 spacesuit prototype. The first new spacesuit developed by NASA in 20 years, it was named one of Time magazine's Best Inventions of that year. Its purpose wasn’t just to replace an aging system, but to introduce a number of new ideas to make spacesuits a bit more efficient.

Spacesuits are anything but an inflatable set of coveralls and, with the exception of Sandra Bullock, they can't be put on or taken off in a few seconds. If anything, they’re less like long johns and more like mixed-gas deep diving rigs that require a lot of training and about an hour to put on after a long, boring period of breathing pure oxygen to avoid a nasty case of the bends. The Z-1 was designed to make spacewalks a bit easier.

The Z-1 prototype (Image: NASA)

The Z-1 prototype (Image: NASA)

Among a number of innovations, the Z-1 included a rear-entry hatch similar to those found on Russian spacesuits, but had the added advantage of allowing the suit to dock directly with a spacecraft. This not only made the suit easier to get in and out of, but because the spacecraft and suit were of the same pressure, there wasn’t the need for a lengthy pre-breathing period. Then, of course, there was the aesthetic element that the Z-1 resembled Buzz Lightyear’s wardrobe, which caught the public’s imagination.

The Z-2 prototype is the next step in the new spacesuit's evolution. Unlike the Z-1, which was made of soft fabrics and was more of a concept in many ways than a functioning system, the Z-2 will be the first spacesuit designed specifically for working on a planet surface to be tested in full vacuum. Tailored using 3D laser scans and incorporating 3D-printed components, it’s also the first rear-entry suit to use a hard upper torso, which makes it easier to wear, more durable, more impact resistant, and configurable to astronauts of different sizes. In addition, the joints have been redesigned based on tests of the Z-1 to make them more mobile, yet compatible with working in a hard vacuum.

According to NASA, the Z-2 will undergo a battery of extensive tests of its mobility, ability to work in a vacuum, comfort, with neutral buoyancy tests in a pool to simulate zero gravity and working on a simulated Martian landscape at the Johnson Space Center in Texas.

Another first for the Z-2 is that it’s not only being designed for looks as well as function, but the public is invited to vote on the design. The competing designs were produced in collaboration with ILC, the primary suit vendor, and Philadelphia University, and are for the outer shell of the suit, which protects it against chafing and snagging, as well as incorporating luminous elements to make it easy to see and identify in the dark. The space agency says that the three versions are aimed at showing off some aspects of the suit’s mobility.

The designs

The Biomimicry design (Image: NASA)

Biomimicry

Taking its cues from deep sea life, biomimicry has segmented pleats at the shoulder, elbow, hip and knee, and electroluminescent wire across the upper torso, which lights up as the ambient light dims like some sort of outer space jellyfish. The texture even has a scaly look like fish skin.

The Technology design  (Image: NASA)

Technology

Technology, as the name implies, looks back to more conventional spacesuits, but with some sci-fi elements added, such as Luminex wire and light-emitting patches for crew identification. The Technology design has exposed rotating bearings, collapsing pleats for mobility and highlighted movement, and abrasion-resistant panels on the lower torso.

The Trends in Society design uses gore pleats and contrasting stitching (Image: NASA)

Trends in Society

According to NASA, Trends in Society is the Z-2 based on what clothes may look like in the near future – in this case, it’s fashion revolving around sportswear, wearable electronics, bright colors, and wearing shorts over your trousers. Trends in Society uses gore pleats with contrast stitching to highlight mobility, electroluminescent wire, and patches on the upper and lower torso.

NASA points out that the final design of the spacesuit derived from the Z-2 prototype will look different because a flightworthy suit will need to incorporate micrometeor protection, high-performance fabrics, and thermal and radiation protection, which will not allow for some of the options used on the Z-2.

Voting is currently open with the deadline set for April 15 at 11:59 PM EDT. NASA says that the Z-2 will be ready for testing in November.

Source: NASA via Universe Today

About the Author
David Szondy David Szondy is a freelance writer based in Monroe, Washington. An award-winning playwright, he has contributed to Charged and iQ magazine and is the author of the website Tales of Future Past.   All articles by David Szondy
19 Comments

Yes - but does it pass the 'Does it make my bum look bigger'

Spacemen are still going to have to tell a little lie........

Brian M
28th March, 2014 @ 04:38 am PDT

This design reminds me of the soft-shell version of Phil Nuytten's Newt-Suit or Exosuit. I'm sure NASA has tried to adapt the hard-shell version but weight and mobility considerations make it difficult.

What is needed is a hybrid material that acts like an alloy when stressed or impacted but is flexible when moving with the human body. Think it already exists in bulletproofing.

Mirmillion
28th March, 2014 @ 07:18 am PDT

Does the first picture show a gun or drill? They need to brand things. Nikey should be involved...branding is key.

hdm
28th March, 2014 @ 08:14 am PDT

None of these would pass the "cool" test in any science fiction film

Jay_Wilson
28th March, 2014 @ 08:28 am PDT

My vote is for the one that is more than just fashionable 'bling'. Please tell me me 'we' are paying for some form of 'visual feedback' graphic displays. Please tell me the millions 'we' are investing are more than a fashion statement.

Drifter
28th March, 2014 @ 08:30 am PDT

As long as there is oxygen in their helmet I doubt one wearing the spacesuit would give a spacerats rear what it looked like. Perhaps with 3D printing a spaceman or women for that matter could simply print their own. Is the affair on Mars going to be formal or casual this evening??? LOL.

Dieter
28th March, 2014 @ 08:50 am PDT

Need a design that allows you to scratch an itch!

Guy DeWardener
28th March, 2014 @ 08:55 am PDT

How about we ask NASA witch is the best, most efficient design. I really don't care what it looks like. Being 100% reliable is what I sure the persons wearing it would probably prefer ?

Jay Finke
28th March, 2014 @ 09:22 am PDT

Hate it. The hunchbacked look is really bad, limits motion, and it has limited view all around.

Neil Farbstein
28th March, 2014 @ 09:32 am PDT

All looks kind of "humpback", kind of disabled person. No?

Richie Arbas
28th March, 2014 @ 09:54 am PDT

Thanks for the galactic opportunity, I agree with good points mentioned on the above comments, in order I would say: function, safety, able to scratch and itch, and my nickel goes to more freedom for the helmet on the back, looks tight (rigid) to face gravity at high speed.

Dragonfly team
28th March, 2014 @ 10:02 am PDT

Apparently a lot of you guys didn't notice, but they aren't asking us to redesign the suit. They already have a design (with entry from the rear, giving that "hunch-back" look). NASA is and should be the decider on suit design. What they are letting us vote on are the asthetics. Look at the pictures and you will see that the overall suit design remains the same.

Jay Lloyd
28th March, 2014 @ 12:51 pm PDT

I agree with Drifter...sort of. He thinks a wrist display is critical.

I agree that a display is critical, but not on the wrist, the inside of the helmet should be a HUD. Telling you things, like telling you the time, how much air is remaining, is a weather front (dust storm) moving in, and have have voice commands, so you can say "record video" or "take picture" if you see something that intrigues you.

I don't give a damn what it looks like.

Derek Howe
28th March, 2014 @ 04:00 pm PDT

I'm surprised that no one else commented on the fact that none of these designs show a life support system. Those large backpacks on the older suits contain their oxygen supply system, their communications, and other systems. None of these suits are worth considering without those systems being part of the suit.

ThJudg
28th March, 2014 @ 04:43 pm PDT

Voted already, great to Help the future ahead

Stephen N Russell
28th March, 2014 @ 05:00 pm PDT

NASA is filled with engineers, but not designers. This suit reflects that attitude. A designer's job is to take the engineer's idea and make it aesthetic, pleasing---and trust me, design ISN'T fluff--it's important and even impacts function. NASA's already settled on this... hunchback design, so I'm not sure what we're voting on. Anyway, can you imagine what cars would look like if engineers designed the bodywork too? C'mon NASA--hire some real designers. Things need to look cool, otherwise people get turned off. We are a visual species.

hugh5
28th March, 2014 @ 07:53 pm PDT

For freefall work a canister with arms hard suit.

Slowburn
28th March, 2014 @ 10:35 pm PDT

They all look the same to me.

b2p
30th March, 2014 @ 11:13 am PDT

..in my opinion.. what matters the most is the function.. its not really important to make it look good as long as it serves the main function.. you may find looking good is a plus, but out there in space, its irrelevant.. again if provides too much protection, it gets to be very heavy and its very crude to use.. like the old deep sea suite called "diving bell".. it served its purpose, but it was too heavy for any practical use.. same with spacesuits.. if its too heavy, its impractical.. if its too fashionable but breaks too easily, its not worth it..

rbhebron
31st March, 2014 @ 04:59 am PDT
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