Spacesuit Riot (Riot!)

At Johnson Space Center, scientists are hard at work building the next generation of spacesuits for American astronauts’ return to the moon.

And at least one scientist there seems to have been destined to do this work; his name, appropriately enough, is Joe Kosmo.

The Associated Press explains:

Developing the new suits is easier than in the Apollo era, when designers had to rely on slide rules and drafting tables. The suits are designed and re-designed on computer screens before any hardware is used.

"There’s a lot more capable tools and technology to get the job done – a lot more knowledge, as well – 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.

At the top of the list is making the next spacesuit smaller and lighter – engineers are hoping to halve the 200-pound weight of the suit and life support backpack that Apollo astronauts lugged around.

NASA plans to use new, lightweight composite materials and take advantage of smaller electronics to shrink the life support backpacks. NASA also wants the astronauts to be able to move around easily.

Terry Hill, who’s developing the new spacesuit, recalled the robotic-like hops of the Apollo astronauts broadcasting from the moon.

"Mostly, that was because of mobility – they just didn’t have it," he said. 

(An interesting aside found in the AP’s report is that Russian spacesuits, unlike American ones, are only designed to be worn a few times before being thrown away. We reckon that’s how we ended up with Suitsat, the ad-hoc communications "satellite" that we blogged so enthusiastically about last year (here and here).)

Scientists at Johnson Space Center aren’t the only ones working on new spacesuits, however. Students at the University of North Dakota and four other schools are testing their design in the Utah desert, according to another AP report. And scientific advancements in other arenas could quickly find their way into the next generation of space suits, as this New Scientist Space article on "power skin" technology suggests.


For ourselves, we’re looking forward to seeing more of the next iteration of the Joe Kosmo line (sketched above). But we know without a doubt that, as with any summer line of fashion, lightweight is in.