The big, puffy white moonsuits worn by Neil Armstrong and his fellow Apollo astronauts half a century ago are out of fashion. Lunar haute couture now demands something more form-fitting and comfortable for men and women.
Nasa on Wednesday unveiled the first prototype for a newly designed next-generation spacesuit, specially tailored and adapted for the first astronauts expected to venture back to the lunar surface in the next few years.
The latest in lunar clothing was shown at the Johnson Space Center in Houston during an event held for media and students by Axiom Space, the Texas-based company contracted by Nasa to build suits for Artemis, the successor to the Apollo lunar program.
The Artemis 1 mission, the first 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.
Nasa and the Canadian Space Agency plan to announce the four astronauts selected to fly as early as next year on Artemis 2, another out-and-back mission.
That flight, if successful, will pave the way for a planned Artemis 3 astronaut expedition to the lunar surface — the first ever to the moon’s south pole — later in the decade. It will be the first ever to send a woman to walk on the moon.
Nasa promises that subsequent Artemis missions will include the first person of color on the moon.
The program, named after Apollo’s twin sister from Greek mythology, ultimately aims to establish a sustainable lunar base as a springboard for future human exploration of Mars.
Nasa chief Bill Nelson said the new spacesuits “will open up opportunities for more people to explore and do science on the moon than 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 by the Artemis astronauts to the moon will look very different from the large spacesuits of the past.
Branded by Axiom as the “Axiom Extravehicular Mobility Unit”, or AxEMU for short, the new suits are more streamlined and flexible than the old Apollo suits with greater range of motion and variety in size and fit.
They are designed to fit a wide range of potential wearers and accommodate at least 90% of the US male and female population, Nasa said. They will also incorporate advances in life support systems, pressure clothing and avionics.
However, the exact appearance of the suits remained a closely guarded trade secret. The ones on display came with an outer layer that was charcoal gray with streaks of orange and blue and Axiom’s logo on the chest – meant to hide Axiom’s proprietary outer fabric design.
The company said the suits to be worn on the moon’s south pole by astronauts will be white because it is the best color to reflect the harsh sunlight on the moon’s surface and protect the wearer from extreme heat.