Striking a Buzz Lightyear-like pose above is the winning design for NASA’s Z-2 spacesuit prototype. The version, called “technology”, was by far the popular vote in an online contest the agency held to choose between three prototypes, garnering 62% of 233,431 votes.
While this will never be used in space, NASA said the next-generation prototype will be useful in helping design future spacesuits. And this prototype will go through a “test campaign” that includes vacuum tests, pool tests in NASA’s Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory and in an area at the Johnson Space Center that simulates the surface of Mars.
“With the agency laser focused on a path to Mars, work to develop the technologies astronauts one day will use to live and work on Mars has already begun. Each iteration of the Z-series will advance new technologies that one day will be used in a suit worn by the first humans to step foot on the Red Planet,” NASA stated.
There are three options (which you can see above), and NASA promises the winning design will be used in pool training at NASA’s Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory, the Johnson Space Center “rockyard” to simulate Mars exploration, and in vacuum tests. Outer space is not an option because of “micrometeorite, thermal and radiation protection” considerations, however.
In NASA’s words, here’s a quick summary of the prototypes:
Biomimicry: The “Biomimicry” design draws from an environment with many parallels to the harshness of space: the world’s oceans. 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.
Technology: “Technology” pays homage to spacesuit achievements of the past while incorporating subtle elements of the future. By using Luminex wire and light-emitting patches, this design puts a new spin on spacewalking standards such as ways to identify crew members.
Trends In Society: “Trends in Society” is based off of just that: being reflective of what every day clothes may look like in the not too distant future. This suit uses electroluminescent wire and a bright color scheme to mimic the appearance of sportswear and the emerging world of wearable technologies.
The Z-2 includes several improvements over its Z-1 predecessor, which won an invention award from Time magazine in 2012. These include a “hard composite” upper torso that is intended to be more durable, better shoulder and hip joints, and boots that would be more useful on a planet.