NASA and Axiom Space have revealed a prototype spacesuit for the Artemis program, which will see humanity return to the surface of Earth’s moon for the first time since the final Apollo mission over 50 years ago.
The prototype Axiom Extravehicular Mobility Unit (AxEMU) lunar spacesuit was unveiled during an event at the NASA Space Center in Houston, Texas, which included a practical demonstration that showed off the suit's impressive flexibility and key design improvements over its Apollo-era equivalent.
The suit's orange accented dark grey aesthetic was designed with the help of costume designed Esther Marquis, who worked on the Apple TV+ Sci-Fi series For All Mankind. However, during an actual mission, the classic NASA white look would be applied to the suit to help reflect the Sun’s light, and stop astronauts from overheating.
Spacesuits - or Extravehicular Mobility Units (EMUs) - are essentially self-contained spacecraft that come complete with all of the systems needed to keep astronauts alive in the brutal, radiation-filled environment that prevails beyond Earth's protective atmosphere.
The current generation of spacesuits in use on the International Space Station are based on 40-year-old technology developed during the space shuttle-era. However, EMUs designed for use on the Moon’s surface will have a different set of needs in terms of thermal requirements and improvements to an astronaut’s range of mobility.
Axiom Space showed off the impressive range of movement offered by the suit during the demonstration, while highlighting key improvements and design features.
Prior to a moonwalk, astronauts will enter the suit via a hatch in the back, sliding in feet first before shimmying down and stretching their hands into the flexible gauntlets. The hatch would then be sealed, and an outsized backpack containing the suite’s life support systems would be secured in place.
During moonwalks, an astronaut's movements will be monitored and streamed through HD cameras mounted on the helmet bubble, while a light rig attached to the head will supply illumination during lunar nights.
Breaking from the historical norm, NASA will not own the spacesuits that it operates on the Moon. Instead, the agency will buy services from commercial partners - like Axiom Space - who will develop and provide hardware for missions, and ensure their safety and performance.
Axiom Space will continue to refine the suit ahead of its first outing on the Moon during the planned Artemis III mission. It’s also worth noting that the EMU’s sleek, dark grey look will be switched out for the usual NASA white for that historic mission. The reason for the change - beside the obvious symbolism - is rooted in the fact that light materials are far better at reflecting heat.
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