Thursday, March 27, 2014

NASA shows off next-generation Z-2 spacesuits, makes us question its fashion sense

Sheer madness

NASA Z-2 spacesuits
 NASA has revealed its newest range of next-generation spacesuits, the Z-2. The Z series of spacesuits is a series of prototypes that NASA is working its way through, with the eventual goal of creating a suit that will be used during future space walks, deep space missions, and planetary EVAs (i.e. walking on Mars).
In 2012 it was the Z-1, which bore more than a passing resemblance to Toy Story‘s Buzz Lightyear (pictured below) — and now we have three Z-2 designs that are, in a word, otherworldly.

NASA’s Z-1 spacesuit prototype. All it needs is some pop-out wings…

Working with ILC Dover (famous for working with NASA on many projects, including the spacesuits used by the Apollo program) and Philadelphia University, NASA is presenting three Z-2 designs for consideration. The idea is that we (you and I) will take a look at these suits, decide which design we like the most, and then vote on which one will be turned into an actual prototype. You have until April 15 to vote, and the spacesuit will be fully built by November 2014. The completed Z-2 suit will then be used to perform lots of testing here on Earth, to inform the creation of yet another prototype (the Z-3, presumably). It isn’t clear how many prototypes NASA intends to produce, but there is a plan to test out a Z-series suit on the International Space Station in 2017 — which, given the turnaround time of these things, would probably be the Z-3.

The three Z-2 designs are called Biomimcry, Technology, and Trends in Society (really). The Biomimicry suit draws on the fact that Earth’s oceans are quite similar to outer space: “Mirroring the bioluminescent qualities of aquatic creatures found at incredible depths, and the scaly skin of fish and reptiles found across the globe, this design reflects the qualities that protect some of Earth’s toughest creatures,” says the NASA Z-2 website. The electroluminescent wire makes the astronaut visible in low-light. The Technology suit is basically the same deal, but with a sci-fi design aesthetic instead. The oddly named Trends in Society suit uses “a bright colour scheme to mimic the appearance of sportswear and the emerging world of wearable technologies.”

Z-2 spacesuit, Biomimcry design
Z-2 spacesuit, Technology design

Z-2 spacesuit, Trends in Society design

Despite their outwardly different designs, the suits appear to all have the same exciting set of features. NASA will use 3D laser scanning and 3D printing to customize parts of the Z-2 for each astronaut. Each Z-2 will also have a different covering layer — so each suit could have a unique electroluminiscent pattern on the front, for easy identification. The suits will also support the new suitport/suitdock concept — a new spin on airlocks, where the suit itself is the airlock (the diagram on the right explains it much better than my own words). If we ever send humans to Mars or Titan or some other extraplanetary body, suitports will likely be used.

Personally, I’m voting for the Biomimcry design. If we do ever carry out a deep space mission to another planet or star system, the Trends in Society design would be woefully out of fashion by the time we got there. Plus, everyone knows that looking like some kind of terrifying deep-ocean-dwelling Leviathan is the key to making friends with our galactic neighbors.

Remember, you have until April 15 to cast your vote on which design should be made into a fully working prototype.

Source: ExtremeTech

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