NASA is looking for input into the design of their prototype spacesuit. Internet users may vote for their favorite design which will fit over the Z-2 prototype spacesuit being developed by manufacturer ILC Dover. There are three designs to choose from and NASA is looking for help through a crowdsourced campaign to pick the new spacesuit. The three choices are the “Technology” pattern, the “Trends in Society” pattern, or the “Biomimicry” pattern. Voting began yesterday and will be open until April 15.
A NASA spokesman from the Johnson Space Center located in Texas said that by the time he left the office yesterday on the first day of voting, over 7,000 online votes had already been cast. A Reddit AMA hosted by NASA engineers is scheduled to being at 2:30 p.m. EST on Wednesday. The engineers will answer questions about what it takes to manufacture a spacesuit as well as questions about the design contest and the Z-2 spacesuit in particular.
The cover design which gets the most votes will be used on a Z-2 spacesuit which is scheduled to come out by November. The suit will then be tested in the simulated Mars rock yard at the Johnson Space Center, vacuum chambers, and the spacewalk training pool at the center which is also known as the Natural Buoyancy Laboratory. Before the cover can be tested though, internet users need to help NASA choose the new spacesuit design to go into production.
While the chosen design will be tested out at Johnson Space Center’s Mars rock yard, it is more likely that a different spacesuit design will be actually traveling to Mars. A design engineer manager from the suit manufacturer ILC Dover, Jinny Ferl states that while the future Mars suits may include wearable electronics like the ones in the contest, they will probably not include the fashionable areas of darker material because those spots would then absorb too much heat. The Mars suit designs will be based on functionality as opposed to form. While Ferl indicates that some of the new design technologies may carry over to the next future prototype which will be designated Z-3, a flight suit cover would not only need to be reflective but multilayered as well. The Z-2 cover designs being voted on at this time would not be suitable for some environments.
NASA, while wanting to offer the opportunity to internet users to assist in finding a suit with a memorable appearance, also states the importance of the cover layer for a prototype suit. The layer must protect against snags and abrasions during the rigorous testing procedures the suit must endure. NASA says that they are looking forward to being able to employ elements in the cover layer design that have not been previously used in a spacesuit.
All three designs which are available for users to vote on share some common elements. They all include electroluminescent wiring and they all use composite structures which are impact-resistant. Additionally, they will all feature the most re-sizable hard upper torso ever to have been built. According to NASA all the designs were created not only with the intent to protect the Z-2 suit but also to aid testing and highlight certain mobility features. Until April 15, internet users may help NASA choose the cover design which will be manufactured for the new Z-2 spacesuit.
By Dee Mueller
on twitter @TuesdayDG