Life imitates art. Sometimes with a little nudge. I only recently found out, but NASA’s new prototype space suit, the Z1, bears a striking resemblance to my favorite space ranger…
The Z1 is the first major revamp of our space suits since 1998, the Extravehicular Mobility Unit (EMU) units. Aside from just looking cool and stylish, one of the biggest changes is much greater flexibility. Plus, the suits act as their own airlock.
I can easily understand the need for flexibility, but the airlock? That’s pretty clever. In the current suit, the design is top/bottom, and the two halves are sealed together for air integrity. With the Z1 prototype, there’s a big hatch in the back. The astronauts just climb in and close the door.
Current airlock technology is reported to be slow and tiring. (Not that I’d actually know from personal experience…) The new systems would have the suit hung on a wall, with a hatch through the wall leading directly into the suit. My first thought was “So, they’ll be hanging the suit outside the spacecraft, like a laundry line?” There could be all kind of risks involved!
In actuality, the suit would be stored in a small anteroom. Once someone is wearing it, and the back hatch is closed, then they can walk outside. Sounds a lot better than what I was thinking!
EDIT: It turns out, the plans actually DO call for the suit to be stored outside. The small anteroom is a simple rectangular box, sealing the outside away from the inside. So, I guess if the suit is damaged and can’t hold pressure, the door won’t open. Looked at from the other point of view, what if there’s a micrometeor storm, and the suit PLUS the hull are damaged? Then you’d have no safety net. You know in the movies, when the alarm is blaring, the ship has been holed, and everybody is rushing for their space suits? Forget about that. Okay, that’s movies. In real life though, I have to wonder how vulnerable such a system is.
The suit isn’t a perfect match for Buzz Lightyear’s. But with the green accent stripes, and the flat-pack look of the suit backpack, it does bear a striking resemblance. Since the Z1 is a prototype space suit, there’s likely to be a Z2, Z3, and maybe more. Whoever designed the original must have children… or a sense of whimsy. I just hope the future versions maintain that same Buzz Lightyear feel!
Oh… and if it ever becomes publicly available… you might see me dressed up for Halloween. :^)