What outfit will the first human being to set foot on another planet be wearing?
The world was given some clues this week as US space agency, Nasa, released pictures of its latest prototype spacesuit.
The “Z-2” includes features such as electroluminescent wiring – never used in a spacesuit before – and light-emitting patches to help astronauts identify each other on spacewalks.
Elements of the Z-2 are likely to be included in the suits that will one day be used on the first manned mission to Mars.
Those pioneers of the future will be able to travel safe in the knowledge that their suits fit perfectly, thanks to the Z-2 innovations of 3D human laser scans and a 3D-printer to ensure that they are made to measure.
Other new developments include a hard composite upper torso structure, to give the suit extra durability, and better shoulder and hip joints.
The Z-2 is due to be ready for tests by November. They will include trials in vacuum chambers, designed to mimic the lack of atmosphere found in space.
Engineers will also test the suit at Nasa's Johnson Space Center in Houston in the ‘Neutral Buoyancy Lab’ – a huge indoor pool used to train astronauts to spacewalk. Further testing at the same centre will take place at a site that imitates the rocky Martian surface, in order to help evaluate the suit's mobility, comfort and performance.
The results will then be used to help design the next prototype, the Z-3.
An internet vote was held to choose which version of the Z-2 Nasa should develop. The ‘technology’ option won 63 per cent of the support in the public poll, which attracted 233,431 votes.
A ‘biomimicry’ version based on the protective qualities of the “the scaly skin of fish and reptiles” received 23 per cent of the vote, with the rest opting for a ‘Trends in Society’ option described as “being reflective of what every day clothes may look like in the not too distant future”.
Discover Nasa Education's free teaching resources on TES Connect.
Questions for debate and discussion
- Why do astronauts have to wear special suits when they travel into space?
- How might this new space suit help astronauts? Why is it special?
- Why do governments spend so much money on space exploration? Do you think it is right? Justify your answer.
- This new spacesuit uses ‘biomimicry’. Can you think of any other man-made inventions that imitate nature?
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