NASA is thinking hard about what the first boots to set foot on Mars will look like.
Getting astronauts to the Red Planet is the chief long-term goal of the agency's human spaceflight program, so NASA is developing many technologies to help make that happen. For instance, there's the Space Launch System mega-rocket, the Orion crew capsule and a new line of prototype spacesuits called the Z-series.
"We are heading for Mars; that's what is the end goal right now for the suit," said Phil Stampinato of ILC Dover, the Delaware-based company that won NASA contracts to design and build the first two iterations of the Z-series, the Z-1 and Z-2.
"So, everything that's done to develop this suit is headed for a Mars mission, even if there is an asteroid mission or a lunar mission prior to that," Stampinato said during a presentation with NASA's Future In-Space Operations working group on June 4.
A new type of suit
NASA astronauts aboard the International Space Station currently don a bulky suit called the Extravehicular Mobility Unit (EMU) whenever they need to venture outside the orbiting lab. The EMU has performed well for decades, but its utility is pretty much limited to operations in microgravity.
"It's a very, very poor walking suit," NASA spacesuit engineer Amy Ross said in a video released by the space agency.
The Z-series suits, on the other hand, are designed to be more flexible, with a wider variety of uses — including ambling about on Mars and other planetary bodies.
"We're trying to design [the new suit] to accommodate both improved microgravity EVA [extravehicular activity] capability as well as surface capability," Ross said. . . .
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