It’s like something Buzz Lightyear would be seen in, minus the death ray laser. It’s called the Z-1 spacesuit, a prototype that NASA hopes to incorporate into their equipment lineup by 2015. Not only does this new design offer a wide range of advantages compared with the space agency’s previous suit – the Extravehicular Mobility Unit (EMU) spacesuit – it also represents the first major overhaul in spacesuit technology since 1998.
For example, it boasts a rear-entry hatch which lets an astronaut put on the suit from the back, as opposed to putting on the top, bottom and helmet separately. This hatch also coincides with a feature known as the suit port, which allows the suit to be attached to the outside of a vehicle (such as a rover), thus allowing the astronaut to simply enter the suit from inside the vehicle. This is a big step from the current space suits which must be stored and put on internally.
On top of that, the Z-1 excels in the areas of mobility and visibility. The former arises from the fact that the suit comes as a single piece rather than being made up of multiple segments. The larger, bubble dome helmet is what ensures that the astronauts has a better field of view. And finally, NASA plans to address the issue of life support through the portable PLSS 2.0 which condenses all life support systems into one package and does not need external components.
The PLSS 2.0 design also incorporates a massive bonus in the form of the Spacesuit Water Membrane Evaporator temperature regulator, which would actually make it possible for future astronauts to comfortably walk on extraterrestrial planets. According to NASA’s PLSS engineer Carly Watts, the PLSS 2.0 “can be used in a Martian environment. It can be frozen without damaging the unit, and it’s not particularly sensitive to contamination.” Good news for the astronauts heading to Mars in 2030, assuming the budget environment remains friendly after President Obama is no longer in power.
Check out this video of NASA Public Affairs Officer Brandi Dean talking with Cristina Anchondo, Z1 spacesuit test director, about the Z1 spacesuit at the Johnson Space Center.