Out with the old, in with the new: NASA unveils new spacesuit for lunar wear

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When NASA sends the first astronauts to explore near the lunar South Pole, moonwalkers will wear next-generation spacesuit specially tailored and accessorized for missions to the moon’s surface.

The big, puffy white moonsuits worn by Neil Armstrong and his fellow Apollo astronauts a half-century ago have been swapped for a streamlined spacesuit provided by Axiom Space, the Texas-based company contracted by NASA to build suits for Artemis, successor to the Apollo moon program.

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These very suits could eventually be worn by the first woman and person of color to walk on the moon.

The first prototype was revealed Wednesday during an event at Space Center Houston in Texas.

NASA selected the company to develop the modern suits for the Artemis III mission.

The new design, which looked black with blue and orange detailing for the unveiling, appeared to take on a vastly different aesthetic than the puffy white suits worn by moonwalkers of the 20th century. However, Axiom Space noted in a news release that its suits are covered in an extra layer — bearing the company’s colors and logo — for display purposes.

The actual spacesuits worn by astronauts must be white “to reflect heat and protect astronauts from extreme high temperatures,” according to the release.

Axiom said it collaborated with costume designer Ester Marquis from the Apple TV+ lunar series “For All Mankind” to create the custom cover layer using Axiom’s logo and brand colors.

The Artemis I mission, the inaugural launch of NASA’s powerful next-generation rocket and its newly built Orion spacecraft on an uncrewed test flight around the moon and back, was successfully completed in December.

NASA and the Canadian Space Agency plan to announce the four astronauts chosen to fly as early as next year on Artemis II, another out-and-back mission.

That flight, if successful, will pave the way for a planned Artemis III astronaut expedition to the lunar surface - the first ever to the moon’s south pole - later in the decade. It will be the first ever to send a woman to walk on the moon.

“NASA’s partnership with Axiom is critical to landing astronauts on the Moon and continuing American leadership in space. Building on NASA’s years of research and expertise, Axiom’s next generation spacesuits will not only enable the first woman to walk on the Moon, but they will also open opportunities for more people to explore and conduct science on the Moon than ever before,” said NASA Administrator Bill Nelson. “Our partnership is investing in America, supporting America’s workers, and demonstrating another example of America’s technical ingenuity that will position NASA and the commercial space sector to compete – and win – in the 21st century.”

Branded by Axiom as the “Axiom Extravehicular Mobility Unit,” or AxEMU for short, the new suits are more streamlined and flexible than the old Apollo get-ups, with greater range of motion and variability in size and fit.

They are designed to fit a broad range of potential wearers, accommodating at least 90 percent of the US male and female population, NASA said. They also will incorporate advances in life-support systems, pressure garments and avionics.

Features of the suit include an HD video camera and a light band mounted to the visor of the helmet. The light band will afford astronauts better visibility as they work in the permanently shadowed regions of the lunar south pole or go on spacewalks, said Russel Ralston, deputy program manager at Axiom Space.

A hatch with two hinges located on the back of the suit allows astronauts to enter the spacesuit feet first, then shimmy into it, and a backpack provides the portable life support system. The boots have been reinforced with extra insulation to keep the astronauts’ feet warm as they work in icy regions of the moon that never see sunlight.

“This is this is a great example of what innovation can do,” said Peggy Whitson, retired NASA astronaut and current Axiom astronaut. “This is going to be such a much more flexible suit and the range of motion is really going to improve the astronauts’ ability to do all those tasks that they’re going to do while they’re out exploring on the lunar surface and eventually on Mars.”

Through Artemis, NASA will land the first woman and the first person of color on the Moon, paving the way for a long-term, sustainable lunar presence to explore more of the lunar surface than ever before and prepare for future astronaut missions to Mars.

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