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NASA announces winner in Z-2 spacesuit contest

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April 30, 2014

The winning Technology design harkens back to more conventional spacesuits, but with some ...

The winning Technology design harkens back to more conventional spacesuits, but with some sci-fi elements added (Image: NASA)

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The votes are in with NASA announcing the winner of its Z-2 spacesuit design challenge. For the challenge, the public was invited to choose one of three alternative designs for a new prototype spacesuit with the “Technology” option winning with 233,431 votes, or about 63 percent of the total vote. The Technology design will now be used in the completed Z-2 suit as part of NASA’s project to create a new spacesuit for the exploration of Mars.

The Z-2 is that latest in the Z-series of spacesuit prototypes created for NASA’s Advanced Exploration Systems Division. The goal is to develop a new suit, through a number of iterations, that can be used for a manned mission to Mars. The Z-2 is not itself a flightworthy suit and will not be sent into space because it lacks the specific high-performance materials and design details needed for working outside the Earth’s atmosphere.

The challenge allowed the public to vote for one of three versions of the Z-2 cover layer, each of which was designed by Philadelphia University and the primary suit vendor, ILC Dover. Each of these designs highlighted a mobility characteristic, as well as including electroluminescent wiring, which has never been used on a spacesuit before. NASA hopes that the wiring will help in space crew identification.

The contest allowed the public to vote for one of three designs (Image: NASA)
The contest allowed the public to vote for one of three designs (Image: NASA)

The cover layer is the outermost layer of a spacesuit that protects the lower layers and spacesuit components from snagging and abrasion. In a fully operational spacesuit, the layer also protects the astronaut against micrometeorites, heat, cold, and radiation. NASA also admits that it makes the suit look better.

According to NASA, the Z-2 has a number of improvements over the earlier Z-1, which has been the subject of two years of evaluations. The Z-2 has a hard composite upper torso for greater durability, the shoulder and hip joints are more mobile, and the boots are more like those that would be found on a space-ready suit. In addition, the Z-2 can withstand a full-vacuum during testing.

The Z-2 will be tested in a neutral buoyancy tank (Image: NASA)

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

NASA says that the Z-2 will be completed by November and will be tested at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston in the Neutral Buoyancy Lab, which simulates weightless conditions using a swimming pool, then on a simulated Martian surface. The engineers will evaluate the Z-2’s mobility, comfort and performance, as well as subjecting it to multiple vacuum chamber tests with pressures down to that of a full vacuum. The results of the tests will then be used in designing the Z-3.

Source: NASA

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
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13 Comments

Not that form isn't important, but as space ventures are still in their infancy, what's the point of teaching the baby running styles before it learns to walk. Making cheap functional suits is the goal at this stage isn't it? Remember, the Phoenix can fly only when it's feathers have grown.

SciFi9000
1st May, 2014 @ 12:22 am PDT

Why do our astronauts need to look like they're wearing tourist shorts?

Pin
1st May, 2014 @ 12:56 am PDT

This whole thing seemed to me to be about creating the illusion of choice for the general populace. It's a publicity stunt. The suits aren't that different from one another.

Roderic Langer
1st May, 2014 @ 08:25 am PDT

We claim this planet is property of YMCA. Seriously, that's fine, it is a 'life' symbol. Please allow the public to get involved with 'our' spending; sooner

Drifter
1st May, 2014 @ 09:17 am PDT

P.R. exercise. Perhaps it will raise some awareness or something.

Satweavers
1st May, 2014 @ 09:34 am PDT

I preferred the original prototype.

Mark Keller
1st May, 2014 @ 01:30 pm PDT

They need bigger ray guns.

jerry
1st May, 2014 @ 06:10 pm PDT

While this new suit may be sufficient for micro gravity EVA's (like spacewalks), I'd argue that its a poor choice for the exploration of the surface of Mars.

A much better option would be a mechanical counter-pressure suit, like the biosuit being developed at MIT.

KushSmoka420
2nd May, 2014 @ 08:20 am PDT

it looks like a Krogan from Mass Effect

Brett King
2nd May, 2014 @ 08:44 am PDT

@ KushSmoka420

Skin suits are less comfortable when worn long term and gives you less time to make a fix if it gets a hole.

Slowburn
2nd May, 2014 @ 01:27 pm PDT

a bit like my dog designing a wedding dress isn't it?

b@man
2nd May, 2014 @ 07:15 pm PDT

@ Slowburn

I beg to differ. In fact, here are 2 sources claiming the exact opposite on both your points.

Example A:

A mechanical counter-pressure suit designed by Paul Webb was tested between 1968 and 1971. From Wikipedia [The tests were successful: the practicality of a mechanical counter pressure spacesuit was demonstrated conclusively. The energy needed to move about was considerably less than conventional designs, which was a major improvement for long-duration spacewalks. Tests of punctures showed that up to a square millimeter of skin could be directly exposed to vacuum for extended periods with no permanent effect. A similar puncture in a conventional suit would result in a loss of pressure and breathing air.] Keep in mind that this was over 40 years ago, the BioSuit being more recent, obviously uses more advanced technology.

Example B:

There's an article about the BioSuit directly quoting Dava Newman, the MIT professor who designed it. From "Boston" magazine [She said the air needed to supply the necessary pressure to the astronauts essentially turns them into “stiff balloons” that make movement difficult and tiring.

Her form-fitting BioSuit could one day allow space explorers to move “freely” and with more agility when performing their work. “Work in active materials is one of our big focuses,” said Newman.

The suit would also potentially be safer than a traditional suit. Newman said an abrasion or puncture in a bulky space suit would cause a major emergency, but a small breach in the BioSuit could be easily repaired.

KushSmoka420
4th May, 2014 @ 05:56 am PDT

@ KushSmoka420

How was the hole generated and/or how did they make it without harming the skin under it.

Slowburn
4th May, 2014 @ 09:08 pm PDT
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