“Star command, come in. Do you read me?”
This past week NASA has unveiled its latest prototype spacesuit, behold the Z-1 [pdf]. This is the first suit that has been developed by NASA since the creation of the Extravehicular Mobility Unit in 1992, the suit that is worn on spacewalks on the International Space Station. There’s been some buzz of how Z-1 has an uncanny visual similarity to our favorite space ranger, Buzz Lightyear. Who wouldn’t want to model a spacesuit after loyal and romantic intergalactic hero? (Side note: Buzz Lightyear is named after the 2nd man on the moon Buzz Aldrin. The MTV Music Video Moon Man is also modeled after Colonel Aldrin.)
The Z-1 prototype spacesuit is designed to brave the next stages of space exploration. That next stage is a little unclear at the moment therefore the Z-1 prototype is designed to be extremely versatile. Mary Beth Griggs of Popular Mechanics’s wonderfully breaks down the suit:
Astronauts step into the full suit through the back port. This port will mate with the spacecraft, enabling an astronaut to enter the suit from inside the craft for extravehicular activity. Another advantage: When used in low to no atmosphere, the port conserves more air than a conventional air lock.
The Z-1 has bearings at the waist, hips, upper legs, and ankles to allow an astronaut greater mobility–essential for retrieving soil and rock samples in tough terrain.
This provisional outer covering conceals a heavily engineered inner suit; a layer of urethane-coated nylon retains air, and a polyester layer allows the suit to hold its shape.
The pants of the suit look like those combination pants/shorts that tourists find convenient to wear–the ones with zippers at the knees. I almost want to throw a camera around his neck and tell him don’t forget to write. The suit is currently undergoing heavy testing at NASA Johnson Space Center and is being prepared for possible human exploration of the Moon, near earth asteroids or Mars. I’ll have Buzz Lightyear-like visions dancing in my head come Sunday as the Mars Science Laboratory Rover (commonly known as Curiosity) lands on Martian soil. Curiosity is twice as long, five times as heavy and equipped with more instrumentation than any other Rover that has been sent to the surface of Mars. It is collecting data for future manned missions to the red planet. To infinity…and beyond!