If you think that NASA’s new Z–1 spacesuit prototype looks a lot like Buzz Lightyear, you are not alone. The agency recently concluded a round of tests on the new kit’s mobility, testing its fit, range of motion, and the ease of getting in and out of it in reduced gravity.
The Z–1 is a big departure from the current EMU spacesuit in two ways. First, astronauts enter and exit the suit from the back (it has a hatchback) rather than putting the top and bottom on separately, which should make "donning and doffing" faster and less likely to cause injury. Even more impressive, the suit uses a "suitport" design, so instead of using an airlock to let astronauts move from their vehicle’s pressurized cabin into the outside environment, the back of the Z–1 is attached and sealed to the outside of the vehicle. The astronaut can then quickly jump in through the suit’s back and close the door, and — once air pressure is properly adjusted, he or she is off collecting geological samples in no time.
While the Z–1 weighs quite a bit more than existing EMU suits (158 versus 100 pounds), ball bearings in the joints should make it easier to move around. NASA hopes to have the suit ready for a variety of possible missions (for example, a manned mission to Mars) sometime in 2015.
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