NASA has always been a very formal, no frills attached scientific agency. They are the first and only scientific organization yet to land a man on the moon. They have sent probes to other planets. They have a satellite orbiting Mars. They even explored the known solar system with the Voyager series. Suffice to say, NASA is all about precise scientific exploration of the universe. Now, they are developing the new Z-2 spacesuit. The scientists at NASA want to keep everything about the new suit purely scientific, right? Wrong. NASA has decided to turn space exploration into a trendy, sci-fi runway fashion show with their new spacesuit designs.
NASA wants the world to vote on their new spacesuit designs for the Z-2 class spacesuit. They have a page on their website dedicated to the vote, with slideshows of their three new “looks.”
The first suit up for votes is called “biomimicry.” This suit is supposed to be inspired by the ocean. It really does look like something out of a science fiction movie rather than a serious space-faring design. The astronaut glows in the dark from electroluminescent wire sewn into the front of the suit, which gives the suit an odd sort of Las Vegas appeal. Sadly, there are probably few nightclubs in the vacuum of space.
When Neil Armstrong became the first person to set foot on the moon, it is highly doubtful that he was concerned about how “cool” he looked in his A7L spacesuit. That suit was designed for complete functionality, right down to the outer color.
The white color was chosen for the A7L because it reflects light from the sun, which helps to keep an astronaut cool on the 253 degrees Fahrenheit (123 degrees Celsius) Lunar surface. That sort of dedication to pure science and safety is what NASA is best known for.
The second choice is called “Technology.” This version of the suit, NASA feels, is a modernized version of the A7L suits worn by Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong. The major difference is that the astronaut appears to be some sort of neon ornament of light-emitting patches that will help astronauts identify each other better in space.
Times are definitely changing. NASA appears to no longer be satisfied with bare functionality, and wants to focus on image. Their website even rationalizes the bizarre, sci-fi inspired choices as having “a bright color scheme to mimic the appearance of sportswear.” Apparently, they want their elite space crews to look like members at a trendy health club. NASA has done a curious job in turning the rigors of space exploration into a search for dramatic new sci-fi inspired spacesuit designs for their runway fashion show.
The most startling thing about these choices is that they really do not look like athletic gear at all. NASA may have planned to incorporate athletic fashion design, but these suits look more like extras from a Hollywood production. Some have mentioned that NASA will not be using these suits in space yet, and that they plan to use them as training suits. That may be so for now, but it is very clear from NASA’s website that the designers are pushing for these suits to make it into space.
The third choice is called “Trends in Society.” NASA believes that this spacesuit will reflect the way people are going to dress in the future. Even Captain Spock might raise an eyebrow at that remark. Their suit model comes complete with a ray gun, and what appears to be some sort of space briefcase.
The second choice, “Technology,” is leading the vote by a huge margin at the moment. It has more than 65% of the total votes, and will possibly become the design for the new Z-2 spacesuit.
It sure is great that NASA is trying to revamp their image, but are these really the right suit designs? NASA should not have to create a runway for their sci-fi fashion show of new spacesuit designs, and it remains to be seen whether this sort of thinking will turn space exploration at NASA into a laughing-stock around the world. The history of NASA speaks for itself. It is a noble organization dedicated to hard scientific discovery, not glow in the dark fashion. The future of NASA is definitely getting more and more uncertain ever since the end of the space shuttle program.
By Luke Sargent