Back in the sixties our astronauts had to roam outer space in aluminum like “soup cans”. In their defense, designers back then had to rely on slide rules and drafting tables. "There's a lot more capable tools and technology to get the job done…so we can capitalize on them," said Joe Kosmo, who participated in the design, development and testing of suits from the Mercury, Gemini, Apollo, Skylab and shuttle eras. While our current puff marshmallow suits are better than tin cans, they’re still quite bulky, limited and weigh over 270 lbs.
The Russians (not the world’s best recyclers) currently prefer one-size-fits-all throwaway suits. You can only use them for a few short space jaunts before they’re trash. The current U.S. suits are easier to work in for long periods of time and are more flexible. However, their complexity requires a lot more maintenance.
"Finding the right balance is always going to be a challenge," said veteran astronaut Jeff Williams, who has donned both the complex American suit and the spare Russian suit. "It's trade-offs."
According to NASA to the new “haute couture” of space fashion is at once both high-tech and low-maintenance. NASA also wants to make the new spacesuit multi-purpose for launch, at the space station and on the moon and Mars, instead of having to use several different types of suits for each phase. Some of the other must-have features of a spacesuit are the ability to withstand extreme hot and cold temperatures, to shield radiation, and function on very low power because the spacesuit's oxygen-rich atmosphere can quickly turn a spark into a fire. All this, and the new suit will still be roughly half the weight of its predecessor.
Terry Hill, who is developing the new spacesuit can’t say exactly how much these new suits will cost because a production contract has yet to be awarded but, "Nothing's cheap," he says”. (Obviously we don’t buy hot dogs at the same gas station.)
NASA plans to award a contract in a year or so, produce the first prototypes by 2010 and certify the suit by 2012 in time for the new spaceship Orion's maiden voyage by 2014. Posted by Rebecca Sato.
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