NASA’s New Moon Spacesuits are Straight Out of Science Fiction — Literally
The Artemis III suits were designed by For All Mankind’s costume designer Esther Marquis.
NASA just unveiled its new Lunar Surface Suit, the spacesuit that Artemis III astronauts will wear on the Moon.
At NASA’s Johnson Space Center, an engineer from contractor Axiom Space paraded onstage and waved to the gathered crowd in the new Lunar Surface Suit, whose sharp-looking black, orange, and blue color scheme was designed by Esther Marquis, the costume designer who created the spacesuits for alternate-history space show For All Mankind.
On an actual mission, the suit will be mostly white — visibility is key for astronauts, which is why EVA suits tend to be white, and the pressure suits worn during launch and re-entry tend to be bright orange. But NASA and Axiom clearly wanted to make a splash today, and that’s no surprise. The Lunar Surface Suit is a critical piece of hardware for the Artemis program, and it’s NASA’s first new spacesuit design in more than 40 years.
“We have not had a new suit since the suits that we designed for the Space Shuttle, and those suits are currently in use on the Space Station,” says Johnson Space Center director Vanessa Wyche as part of the announcement.
Engineers at Johnson Space Center spent almost a decade designing and testing early versions of the spacesuit, as well as developing a list of stringent requirements for safety, heating and cooling, mobility, and dust resistance. And now it’s in the hands of engineers at contractor Axiom Space, who will produce the final product. They’ll also own it — NASA’s brand-new spacesuit won’t actually be NASA property.
Lunges and Squats on the Moon
Engineers at Johnson Space Center and Axiom Space designed the suit to be much more mobile and flexible than the one Neil Armstrong first stepped onto the Moon with back in 1969. The changes include an overall less bulky frame, more joints in the legs and lower torso, and other changes aimed at making it easier to walk long distances, manipulate tools for hours at a time, and actually squat down or bend over to pick up a rock.
An engineer demonstrated the suit in a series of slightly awkward squats and lunges on stage at Johnson Space Center earlier today.
When the time comes, astronauts will don the suit by stepping in, feet and arms first, through a hatch in the back. Once suited up, they’ll depend on a portable life support system — mounted like a backpack on the hatch itself — for air and warmth (or cooling, depending on whether they’re in a shadowed lunar crater or hanging out on the hull of the International Space Station in full sunlight).
“Think of it as a very fancy scuba tank and air conditioner combined into one,” says Russel Ralston, deputy program manager of EVA at Axiom Space.
Spacesuits That Actually Fit
The Lunar Surface Suit is designed to fit a more diverse modern astronaut corps, literally. In early 2019, NASA had to postpone the first ever all-female spacewalk due to not having enough size medium spacesuits aboard the International Space Station — the most glaring recent reminder that the U.S. space program’s systems were so thoroughly built around men that mission planners didn’t even consider needing enough spacesuits to fit an EVA crew of women.
But NASA touts Artemis III as the mission that will land “the first woman and the first person of color on the Moon,” and this time, the agency wants to make sure the suits actually fit.
Instead of being a single piece, the new Lunar Surface Suit’s individual elements can be swapped out to get the right size and proportions for each astronaut, and many of the components can also be adjusted to refine the sizing. During the announcement earlier today, an Axiom representative said that the test subjects for prototype versions of the suit have been people in a range of sizes.
It’s a Rent-a-Spacesuit
The biggest difference between the new Lunar Surface Suit and earlier models, though, isn’t one you can actually see. For the first time in the agency’s history, NASA won’t actually own the spacesuits its astronauts are wearing. They’ll remain the property of Axiom Space, provided along with maintenance and other services under an “EVA services contract” with NASA.
Lara Kearney, manager of EVA and human surface mobility program at NASA’s Johnson Space Center, described the arrangement as something like renting a car instead of buying one.
NASA and Axiom will put the suits through a series of tests here on Earth before declaring them fit for service on the Moon, and their operational debut will come in 2025 – assuming Artemis III launches on schedule.
But at the moment, it looks like the first major update to NASA’s spacesuit design since 1980 won’t be going to the International Space Station.
“Axiom is building their suit to go to the Moon,” says NASA associate administrator Bob Cabana. “This is the Lunar Surface Suit.” It’s not clear whether the new suits might find their way onto ISS missions sometime after Artemis III, however.