NASA has developed a brand-new spacesuit to replace their current version, which has been in use since 1992. The Z-1 spacesuit is currently a prototype, but it is hoped that it will play a key role in the planned manned mission to Mars in 2030. As you’d expect from NASA, the Z-1 is state-of-the-art in every way – and the designers have even looked at the human body for inspiration. In order to keep the astronauts cool while working in hostile environments, the Z-1 has been designed to use a water membrane evaporation cooler that cools using the same principle as sweating!
Developed by NASA’s Advanced Exploration Systems (AES), the spacesuit is tough enough to withstand the temperatures of the Moon, Mars and asteroids. The “Z-1 Prototype Spacesuit and Portable Life Support System (PLSS) 2.0” is currently undergoing vacuum testing at the Johnson Space Center where it is being put through its paces.
The unique thing about the Z-1 is that it is easier to put on than current spacesuits – in fact, it’s a hatchback! Known in the industry as a “rear-entry space suit”, the Z-1 is made up of a combination of several elements that are flexible when uninflated. To get into the suit, the astronaut climbs through a combined hatch and life support pack on the back of the suit’s torso. This ‘suitport’ also allows it to latch onto a spaceship, rover or habitat, forgoing the need for an airlock.
In addition to providing air for the astronaut, the Z-1 offers protection from heat, cold and micrometeorites. It also removes carbon dioxide and contaminants from the air, making sure that astronauts are able to breathe as easily as possible. In fact, the new carbon dioxide scrubbers forgo the standard lithium hydroxide/metal oxide design, which have to be baked to remove CO2. Instead, the new ones regenerate automatically by “dumping” the carbon dioxide every few minutes.
The Z-1 is currently being tested, and it is hoped that the next generation version of the suit will be the one heading to Mars!