NASA might run out of space suits before it quits the ISS

© NASA

© NASA

NASA is running out of space suits, and new ones are years away from being flight-ready. This was the finding of an audit released on 26 April by the NASA Office of Inspector General, relating to the agency’s three next-generation spacesuit development projects.

Future missions might send humans deeper into space than ever before, so new suits need to be designed to handle the challenging conditions. Recent efforts, which have not been linked to a specific mission or destination, have cost almost $200 million since 2007 but have yet to produce a suitable option for deep-space missions.

The suits currently used during spacewalks from the International Space Station, called Extravehicular Mobility Units (EMU), were designed more than 40 years ago and were intended to last 15 years.

NASA currently uses 11 of the 18 original backpack-like life support systems, which were updated with glove heaters, improved lights and cameras, and an emergency propulsion module in the 1990s. The most recent loss of one of these suits happened during the 2015 explosion of the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, which was ferrying cargo to the ISS.

Yet US involvement on the space station is funded until 2024. “NASA will be challenged to continue to support ISS needs with the current fleet of EMUs through 2024, a challenge that will escalate significantly if Station operations are extended to 2028,” the report says.

Over the past decade, NASA’s focus on developing new spacesuits has been split between three programmes. The Constellation Space Suit System was being designed for use on missions for the Constellation Program, which was canceled in 2010. Despite that, NASA continued to pay to develop spacesuit technologies for six years after the cancellation, ultimately spending $135 million.

The Advanced Space Suit Project was meant to develop suits with more mobility to sustain astronauts on a mission to Mars. The Orion Crew Survival System was a design for a spacesuit that could withstand fire, smoke or toxic chemicals if there was an emergency on the launch pad. (…)“

 

Article by Chelsea Whyte, published on newscientist.com

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