Almost everyone on planet Earth saw the famous images of astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin on the moon. However, the most striking feature of these photographs, often overshadowed by the weight of historical performance itself, is one of the most important pieces of manned space flight missions – their spacesuits.
About half a million people worked on ] NASA's Apollo Project picking up an impossible idea and landing people on the moon. During their travels, astronauts used specialized spacesuits to defend themselves against the harsh conditions of space, and NASA has further developed this legacy in their subsequent work on space suit development.
Radiation, extreme temperatures and a host of other factors are threatening the lives of people venturing out of our little blue marble. However, the best way to protect astronauts from these risks depends on the details of the mission.
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The Apollo suits were specially made for the treatment of the lunar surface. As a result, these suits had to be reworked for NASA's Space Shuttle program and reworked for astronauts traveling to the International Space Station. Now engineers are reinventing space suits, while NASA's NASA's Artemis program sends people to Mars and back to the Moon, continuing work on the space station.
Regardless of destination, the various layers of a space suit are carefully matched to different materials. "Each of the materials is there for a particular job. We're not fashion designers ," said Mallory Jennings, space engineer at NASA's Johnson Space Center, opposite Space.com.
Current Suits Built For The Space Walks from the Station include, as Jennings added, an inner bladder layer that is held under pressure, a retention layer that can be sized and sewn to suit the individual astronaut , a neoprene layer that protects against impacts from micrometeorites, and multiple layers of aluminized Mylar that insulates and protects against extreme temperatures. Add to that the specially developed for NASA "Ortho-Fabric" with protective materials such as Kevlar.
This structure would be familiar to Apollo astronauts, despite altered strata, said Amy Ross, space engineer at NASA's Johnson Space Center, told Space.com. "From Apollo to Shuttle, the multi-layer insulation is the same, many of the purposes of the layers are the same, but the outer material for one, the ortho-fabric, has changed." There have been some new requirements that required more durability than the Apollo ", she said.
For those who are not spacesuit engineers, it seems that the spacesuits have not changed for decades because they look about the same. And while some of the spacesuit hardware is 25 or 30 years old, NASA space suit engineers have been continually updating and modifying the suits and developing new technologies to meet the challenges of space.
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New missions on the Moon and Mars, however, require new spacesuits Apollo lends itself to inspiration. Engineers and astronauts who built and used the suits can direct the design of modern suits, especially for lunar missions like Artemis, by explaining what worked on the lunar surface in astronauts and what did not.
Two key features of the Apollo suits caused many problems for the astronauts and will not be part of the new design. "Zippers are bad and cables are bad," said Ross. During the Apollo lunar walks, the braided metal cables tended to fraze and the zippers that sealed the suits clogged with moon regolith and did not work very well, she said.
The next generation of space suits must learn from these earlier moon battles and then be able to cope with the unique environment on Mars, which requires further design changes. The multi-layer insulation used to protect astronauts has been developed for use in microgravity environments. Although Mars has less gravity than Earth, there is too much gravity for it to be effective. Ross and NASA's other space engineers have been working to develop materials that could serve as insulation on Mars, she said. One such option for the future insulation of spacesuits that NASA teams have been developing for many years is airgel – an ultralight, porous material used in robotic missions such as Stardust .
It's too early to say what NASA's next space suit prototypes will look like, but they certainly have to withstand extreme conditions. Ross and Jennings also believe that suits require less maintenance and construction than current suits, which frees astronauts for more exciting work in space.
NASA teams are also developing new suits for the future Orion crew. These are primarily survival suits for the crew, but they may also be pressure if the crew member has to perform an unscheduled emergency activity. However, they hope that astronauts will never have to use this feature. "The loss of cabin pressure is the reason these suits exist," said Ross. "You really only need the suit when the day is bad."