Nasa unveils new spacesuit designed to withstand Moon’s extreme temperatures

Prototypes will incorporate the latest advancements in life-support systems, pressure garments and avionics

This photo provided by NASA shows a prototype of the suit that moonwalkers will wear when they step onto the lunar surface during a media event at Space Center Houston on Wednesday, March 15, 2023.  The next-generation suit on display was designed and made by Axiom Space, a Houston company that sends private people to the International Space Station.  Although it’s dark colored for now, the real moon suits will be white just like they were during NASA’s Apollo program more than a half-century ago, according to Axiom Space.  (NASA via AP)
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The big, puffy white spacesuits worn by Neil Armstrong and his fellow Apollo astronauts a half-century ago are out of fashion. Lunar haute couture now calls for something more form-fitting and appropriate for men and women alike.

Nasa on Wednesday unveiled the first prototype for a newly designed next-generation spacesuit tailored for the first astronauts expected to venture back to the Moon's surface in the next few years.

The latest in Moon-wear was displayed at the Johnson Space Centre in Houston during an event hosted for the media and students by Axiom Space, the Texas-based company contracted by Nasa to build suits for Artemis, successor to the Apollo Moon programme.

The Artemis I mission, the inaugural launch of Nasa's powerful next-generation rocket and its newly built Orion spacecraft on an unmanned test flight around the Moon and back, was successfully completed in December.

On April 3, Nasa and the Canadian Space Agency plan to announce the four astronauts chosen to fly as early as next year on Artemis II, another out-and-back mission.

That flight, if successful, will pave the way for a planned Artemis III astronaut expedition to the lunar surface — the first to the Moon's south pole — later in the decade.

It will be the first mission to send a woman to walk on the Moon.

Nasa promises that subsequent Artemis missions will include the first person of colour on the Moon.

The programme, named after Apollo's twin sister from Greek mythology, is aimed ultimately at establishing a sustainable lunar base as a stepping stone to future human exploration of Mars.

Explore the Moon more than ever

Nasa chief Bill Nelson said the new spacesuits “will open opportunities for more people to explore and conduct science on the Moon then ever before”.

All 12 Nasa astronauts who landed on the Moon during a total of six Apollo missions from 1969 to 1972 were white men.

The outfits worn to the moon by Artemis astronauts will look very different from the bulky spacesuits of yore.

Branded by Axiom as the “Axiom Extravehicular Mobility Unit”, or AxEmu for short, the new outfits are more streamlined and flexible than the old Apollo suits, with greater range of motion and variability in size and fit.

They are designed to fit a broad range of potential wearers, accommodating at least 90 per cent of the US male and female population, Nasa said.

They also will incorporate the latest advancements in life-support systems, pressure garments and avionics.

However, the precise look of the suits remains a closely guarded trade secret. Those on display came with an outer layer that was charcoal grey with dashes of orange and blue and Axiom's logo on the chest — intended to obscure Axiom's proprietary outer fabric design.

The company said the suits to be worn on the lunar south pole by astronauts will be white because that is the best colour to reflect the harsh sunlight on the Moon's surface and protect the wearer from extreme heat.

Axiom said it collaborated with costume designer Ester Marquis from the Apple TV+ lunar series For All Mankind to create the custom cover layer using Axiom's logo and brand colours.

Houston-based Axiom is not the only designer label that Artemis astronauts will be wearing in the years to come.

Nasa has also awarded a contract to Collins Aerospace of Charlotte, North Carolina, to compete for the chance to come up with future spacesuits to be worn on the Moon and during spacewalks outside the International Space Station.

Updated: March 16, 2023, 9:10 AM