NASA’s Artemis mission objective is among other things, to get human beings back to the Moon. Much of the attention of late has been focussed on the rocket technology to get the astronauts there but as we progress from Artemis I to Artemis II – which aims to take a crew around the Moon and back before Artemis III lands them on the lunar surface – attention is shifting on the spacesuits the crew will wear. The new suits, built by Axiom Space are designed to provide the mobility and protection required on the surface and now, NASA has received samples and is testing them in simulated space environments.
It’s been decades since human beings set foot on the Moon. For those like me that were not born in 1969, even the sight of the famous Armstrong footprint on the surface of the Moon still evokes so many emotions. Most of the technology from the Apollo days is decades old so NASA has commissioned Axiom Space to design and build new spacesuits. The suits were revealed during March 2023 and, instead of the usual Apollo trademark white the new Axiom suits sported a funky black and orange look although the suits delivered to NASA were classically white with blue and red stripes.
The suits have a rather more funky name too; the Axiom Extravehicular Mobility Unit, or AxEMU for short. To arrive at the final design, Axiom worked closely with NASA experts who defined the technical and safety standards that the suit had to be built to.
Having completed the design phase, it was straight into the test phase where the testers wore the new suits at the Johnson Space Centre test facility. Here they performed tests that would put the manoeuvring capability of the suits through their paces. Tasks included bending down to pick up lunar samples using geological tools – a task that sounds really easy but on the Moon with its thin atmosphere and minimal gravity coupled with the bulk of the space suit is far more difficult on the Moon.
The tests will go further though by submersing them, occupants and all into the Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory at NASA. This is ultimately just a large indoor swimming pool but is used to simulate the partial gravity. Together the two tests will explore any unseen limitations of the suits to enable final design tweaks to be worked upon.
The Axiom AxEMU suit has been developed to offer benefits with not just NASA in mind but for other space agencies and commercial space companies too. They offer a wider range of sizing adjustments to be able to accommodate the wider range of the public. Not only will it be suitable for more people, it will still offer the comfort and capability to support the tasks of the Artemis astronauts.