A couple of weeks ago I posted about an asteroid coding competition sponsored by NASA. Continuing on my theme of interaction between NASA and the public, I present to you: the Z-2 Spacesuit Design Vote!
NASA has started a new line of next generation spacesuits, named the Z-series. The Z-1 was completed in November 2012, and the Z-2 is currently being developed (expected completion date is November 2014). The iconic white spacesuits worn by NASA astronauts have worked well in the past, but now NASA is trying to develop suits better suited to different environments and circumstances, such as walking around on the surface of Mars. Taken directly from the website I linked above, here are new features incorporated in the Z-2:
- First surface-specific planetary mobility suit to be tested in full vacuum
- First use of 3D human laser scans and 3D-printed hardware for suit development and sizing
- Most advanced use of impact resistant composite structures on a suit upper and lower torso system
- First integration of the suit-port concept with a hard upper torso suit structure
- Most conformal and re-sizeable hard upper torso suit built to date
Where you come in is with the visual aspect. In collaboration with ILC (the primary suit vendor) and art students at the Philadelphia University, NASA has released 3 designs for the new suit’s cover layer and is allowing the public to vote on these options until April 15th. (The cover layer serves to protect the suit itself, so you’re not actually voting on the technical aspects of the suit, just its appearance.) According to this article, current suits are white to deflect heat and to be visible against the black of space. For missions where astronauts will be “earthbound”—that is, where astronauts will be walking on the surface of planets with gravity, these limitations don’t really apply. (The current plan is to send a manned mission to Mars by 2030, so NASA is trying to get a head start—designing suits for a new purpose requires a lot of attention to detail, and there will probably be many more Z-series models to come in the upcoming decades.)
In my opinion, the Z-1 looks cool, but I’m not a huge fan of any of the options for the Z-2.
I voted for “Technology,” but looking back again, I might actually like “Biomimicry” more. Which design is your favorite? Let me know in the comments, but also go vote! It only takes a minute, and it’s pretty cool to be able to say you had an impact on spacesuit design! (P.S. If you’re voting, it might be worthwhile to at least skim through the descriptions of each design.)
As a bonus, here’s a link a Reddit AMA (Ask Me Anything) hosted by a group of the engineers designing the Z-2 that happened last week.