The past weeks have seen first glimpses of the spacesuits that will carry astronauts to the Moon and potentially Mars, as NASA, Virgin Galactic and SpaceX have each been exhibiting their new cosmic apparel.
On 15 October NASA revealed its Exploration Extravehicular Mobility Unit (xEMU) spacesuit, which will be used for the planned Artemis programme to return US astronauts to the Moon.
Also unveiled was the Orion Crew Survival System suit, designed to be worn by Artemis astronauts during launch.
Spacesuit engineer Amy Ross (left) and NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine (second from left) watch spacesuit engineer Kristine Davis model a prototype of NASA’s Exploration Extravehicular Mobility Unit (xEMU), 15 October 2019 at NASA headquarters in Washington. Dustin Gohmert, Orion Crew Survival Systems Project Manager (right), sports the Orion Crew Survival System suit. Credit: (NASA/Joel Kowsky).
The xEMU suit is designed, says NASA, to provide greater flexibility for astronauts conducting extra vehicular activity – or spacewalks – on the surface of the Moon.
It features protection against the extreme temperatures, radiation and micrometeoroids that pose a potential threat to Artemis astronauts given the Moon’s lack of atmosphere.
Meanwhile, Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic spaceflight company has partnered with sportswear firm Under Armour to reveal their new spacesuits and training suits. The designs were unveiled at an event in New York on 16 October.
Virgin Galactic chairman Richard Branson models the company’s new spacesuit, made in collaboration with Under Armour. Credit: Virgin Galactic 2019
Virgin Galactic says the new astronaut gear is designed with “lightweight flight-grade fabrics, with cushioning in elbows, knees and in the footwear, to provide safety in out-of-seat zero gravity.”
The spacesuits are due to be worn by Virgin Galactic astronauts during the company’s VSS Unity suborbital spaceplanes during crewed test spaceflights, prior to commercial flights expected to commence in 2020.
In August and September, NASA and SpaceX conducted rehearsals for crew extraction and emergency procedures on the Crew Dragon spacecraft that will be used to carry astronauts to and from the International Space Station.
NASA astronauts Doug Hurley (left) and Bob Behnken during crew extraction rehearsals from the SpaceX Crew Dragon, 13 August 2019 at Cape Canaveral, Florida. Credit: (NASA/Bill Ingalls)
The rehearsals saw astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley don the new Crew Dragon spacesuits that will be used during the missions.
Since the end of the Space Shuttle programme in 2011, NASA has worked in partnership with the Russian space agency Roscosmos to ferry astronauts to and from the International Space Station via the Soyuz rocket and capsule.
NASA is working with SpaceX as part of its Commercial Crew Program to see US astronauts once again lift off from American soil.