NASA’s spacesuits are getting old. The extra-vehicular mobility units – EMUs for short – were designed and built for spacewalks outside NASA’s space shuttles, which flew for the last time in 2011. Nowadays, the EMUs are an integral part of maintaining and upgrading the International Space Station (ISS) exterior, providing the crew with the ability to live and work in the vacuum of space for extended periods of time (spacewalks regularly last from 6 to 8 hours). However, at the end of the most recent spacewalk on March 23, NASA astronaut Kayla Barron discovered water in the helmet of German astronaut Matthias Maurer while she helped him remove the suit.Continue reading “Spacesuits are Leaking Water and NASA is Holding off any Spacewalks Until They can Solve the Problem”
This week we are excited to welcome Amy Ross, NASA Space Suit Engineer, to the WSH. Amy is the team lead for the Exploration Extra-vehicular Mobility Unit (xEMU) Pressure Garment Subsystem (PGS) as well as Space Suit Pressure Garment Technology Development. The team’s primary focus is the design, fabrication, qualification testing, and flight hardware delivery of the xEMU PGS in 2023.Continue reading “Weekly Space Hangout: November 11, 2020 – Amy Ross, NASA Engineer and Space Suit Designer”
In the coming years, astronauts will be returning to the Moon for the first time since the closing of the Apollo Era. Beyond that, NASA and other space agencies plan to establish the necessary infrastructure to maintain a human presence there. This will include the Artemis Gateway in orbit (formerly the Lunar Gateway) and bases on the surface, like NASA’s Artemis Base Camp and the ESA’s International Moon Village.
This presents a number of challenges. The Moon is an airless body, it experiences extreme variations in temperature, and its surface is exposed to far more radiation than we experience here on Earth. On top of that, there’s the lunar dust (aka. regolith), a fine powder that sticks to everything. To address this particular problem, a team of ESA-led researchers is developing materials that will provide better protection for lunar explorers.Continue reading “Lunar Dust is Still One of The Biggest Challenges Facing Moon Exploration”
Everything about SpaceX seems exciting right now. In April, SpaceX successfully landed their reusable rocket, the Falcon 9, on a droneship at sea. Also in April, SpaceX announced that they intend to send a Dragon capsule to Mars by 2018. Now, Elon Musk’s private space company has hired Jose Fernandez, superhero movie costume designer, to design spacesuits for his astronauts.
Fernandez, with his company Ironhead Studio, has quite a resume when it comes to costume design. He’s designed superhero costumes for movies like Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice and Captain America: Civil War. He’s also designed costumes for X-Men movies, for Wonder Woman, Tron, and for The Penguin in Batman Returns.
Spacesuits have been slaves to function for a long time. The extreme environments in space have constrained their design to utilitarian forms, out of necessity. But now that Elon Musk has hired Fernandez, things could change. Considerably.
Whatever designs Fernandez comes up with, they will still have to have functionality as their primary concern. There’s no escaping that. But having someone with excellent visual design skills will certainly spice things up.
SpaceX had four other companies working on bids for this design work, but in the end it was Fernandez that won. This is no surprise given Fernandez’ long track record of making great costumes for superheroes. Over a twenty year span, he has also created costumes for Wolverine, Spiderman, The Fantastic Four, and Thor. That is an enviable collection of designs.
It will be super interesting to see what Fernandez comes up with, and how design will meld with engineering requirements to create a safe, effective spacesuit. After all, the people wearing them won’t be actors, and they will require the absolute best performance possible.
Purists may scoff at having someone from Hollywood involved in spacesuit design. After all, this is serious business. The surface of Mars is not a movie set, it’s a dangerous, alien world. But there’s no telling what Fernandez will come up with. If his success in movie costumes is any indication, he might convert any nay-sayers into supporters.
The ESA and NASA are also working on new spacesuit designs. The video below is a good discussion of spacesuit design. Compare the blocky, clunky look of the first spacesuits to what astronauts now use.
When you consider the hazards of spaceflight, it’s hard to get worked up about dust bunnies. And yet, atmospheric dust is going to be one of the biggest problems astronauts will face when they reach the surface of other worlds. Where does this dust come from, and what does it tell us about the history of other worlds, and what can we do to mitigate the health risks?
Continue reading “Astronomy Cast Ep. 326: Atmospheric Dust”