NASA has announced a prototype spacesuit that promises to completely overhaul the way astronauts conduct spaceflights.
The Z-1 suit is designed to help astronauts move more smoothly while on spacewalks. However, the biggest improvement is that the Z-1 is also designed to afford a high range of mobility for astronauts walking on another planet some day.
NASA’s current spacesuit, the EMU (Extravehicular Mobility Unit) was designed specifically to assist astronauts in the construction of the International Space Station. But that design was based strongly on a similar spacesuit used during the Apollo missions 40 years ago. The Z-1 will be a huge departure in looks and function, according to NBC.
Perhaps the most obviously notable thing about the new Z-1 spacesuit? Its resemblance to “Toy Story” character Buzz Lightyear. The suit’s neon green stripes almost seem to be an intentional homage to Buzz Lightyear.
A new rear-entry hatch will make entering and exiting the spacesuit considerably easier for astronauts. Docking mechanisms have also been upgraded significantly.
"One of the big differences is the rear-entry design," Amy Ross, one of the suit’s engineers, said in a NASA video interview. "So the shuttle EMU splits at the waist and you put pants on and you put the top on separately and they connect in the middle. Whereas with this suit, the subject crawls in through the back, and then we just shut the door."
Ross adds that the new spacesuit design is much sturdier and less prone to injury for the astronauts. The current EMU suit has a habit of injuring shoulders, and NASA hopes that the “Buzz Lightyear” suit will make things much easier.
At the same time, NASA is also preparing a new life-support backpack known as the PLSS 2.0. While current models are highly susceptible to contamination, the PLSS 2.0 will be much more durable and able to hold a larger amount of air, meaning that astronauts can embark on significantly longer spacewalks.
One of the downsides to NASA’s new prototypes, however, is weight. While the EMU weighs about 100 pounds, the Z-1 weighs 158. Even in situations with much lower gravity, the extra weight could make things a bit difficult for astronauts. However, NASA doesn't think that will be too much of a problem.
"It sounds very heavy," Ross says, "but once you inflate the suit, it does help to support itself."
Watch for NASA’s new, Buzz Lightyear-inspired spacesuit to begin wide use in 2015.