NASA and Axiom unveil spacesuits astronauts will wear on the moon
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NASA and Texas-based company Axiom Space have revealed a new spacesuit design — and it could be these very suits that are eventually worn by the first woman and person of color to walk on the moon.
The spacesuits unveiled by Axiom Space on Wednesday are prototypes, though the company says it will be delivering spacesuits that can be used for astronaut training by late summer. The company won a contract last year to produce the suits for NASA.
The new design, which looked black with blue and orange detailing for the unveiling, appeared to take on a vastly different aesthetic than the puffy white suits worn by moonwalkers of the 20th century. However, Axiom Space noted in a news release that its suits are covered in an extra layer — bearing the company’s colors and logo — for display purposes.
The actual spacesuits worn by astronauts must be white “to reflect heat and protect astronauts from extreme high temperatures,” according to the release.
The suits will serve a crucial role in NASA’s Artemis program, which seeks to return astronauts to the lunar surface later this decade on a mission dubbed Artemis III. After astronauts land on the moon’s surface, the spacesuits will serve as mobile life support, allowing them to explore the lunar terrain on foot.
The design of the spacesuits borrows from NASA’s own research. The space agency had previously unveiled a prototype design for lunar spacesuits in 2019, called xEMU.
“Leveraging NASA’s Exploration Extravehicular Mobility Unit (xEMU) spacesuit design, the Axiom Space spacesuits are built to provide increased flexibility, greater protection to withstand the harsh environment and specialized tools to accomplish exploration needs and expand scientific opportunities,” the company said in a news release. “Using innovative technologies, the new spacesuit will enable exploration of more of the lunar surface than ever before.”
Developing new spacesuits capable of keeping astronauts alive on the moon has been a years-long effort at NASA. At one point in 2021, the space agency’s inspector general, Paul Martin, warned that significant delays in bringing new spacesuits to fruition would quash NASA’s goal of getting humans to the moon by 2024. The space agency has already delayed the crewed lunar landing to no earlier than 2025.
Martin concluded at the time that the suits were “years away from completion” and would cost more than $1 billion dollars.
Then, NASA announced that it would allow the private sector to take over production of the spacesuits, and the space agency selected Axiom Space as the contractor in September 2022. The deal, referred to as NASA’s xEVAS contract, was valued at up to $3.5 billion.
“We’re carrying on NASA’s legacy by designing an advanced spacesuit that will allow astronauts to operate safely and effectively on the Moon,” said Axiom Space CEO Mike Suffredini, who previously worked at NASA for more than 30 years, in a statement. “Axiom Space’s Artemis III spacesuit will be ready to meet the complex challenges of the lunar south pole and help grow our understanding of the Moon in order to enable a long-term presence there.”
Suffredini served as NASA’s International Space Station Program Manager from 2005 to 2015.