Nasa may not know whether its next destination is an asteroid, Mars or the Moon, but the agency is definitely planning for some kind of journey – and its engineers need to figure out what to pack. “It’s like you’re trying to go on vacation, but you don’t know if you’re going to Antarctica, Miami or Buckingham Palace,” says Amy Ross, a spacesuit engineer at Johnson Space Centre. The Z-1 prototype – currently being tested in a vacuum chamber – has been designed for versatility: to explore alien surfaces, float outside a space station, and even weather the radiation of deep space. “We’re building a lot of tools for the toolbox,” Ross says. “Right now, we’re asked to be very flexible.”
Astronauts step into the full suit through the back port. This port will mate with the spacecraft, enabling an astronaut to enter the suit from inside the craft for extravehicular activity. Another advantage: when used in low to no atmosphere, the port conserves more air than a conventional air lock.
The Z-1 has bearings at the waist, hips, upper legs and ankles to allow an astronaut greater mobility – essential for retrieving soil and rock samples in tough terrain.
This provisional outer covering conceals a heavily engineered inner suit; a layer of urethane-coated nylon retains air, and a polyester layer allows the suit to hold its shape.
– Mary Beth Griggs