NASA Searches for New Spacesuit Tailors
NASA's Joe Kosmo shows parts of a working model spacesuit Thursday, March 15, 2007 at Johnson Space Center in Houston. As NASA prepares to return to the Moon, engineers are working on designing a new space suit.
Credit: AP Photo/Pat Sullivan.

NASA is looking for a new space tailor to design and build the spacesuits to be worn by future astronauts as they bounce around the surface of the moon.

The U.S. agency called on prospective spacesuit designers Tuesday to submit proposals for spaceworthy duds flexible enough to allow astronauts to work outside NASA's future Orion Crew Exploration Vehicle (CEV) or on the lunar surface.

NASA plans to award a contract for the new spacesuits in June 2008, and fly them aboard the first piloted Orion capsule missions to the International Space Station (ISS).

"We'd want to have them there even if we didn't plan to do a contingency spacewalk from the spacecraft," NASA spokesperson Brandi Dean, of the agency's Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, told SPACE.com.

According to NASA's request for proposals, the agency is seeking a contractor to design, develop, test and produce multipurpose spacesuits for its Orion spacecraft crews. The Orion CEV is NASA's space shuttle successor and is expected to make its first crewed flights to the ISS no later than 2015 and ferry astronauts back to the moon by 2020.

For ISS-bound flights, the spacesuits would protect up to six crewmembers against cabin leaks and allow astronauts to perform unplanned spacewalks, NASA said. The four-person lunar missions, meanwhile, would require a quartet of new spacesuits versatile enough for use during the weightless flight to and from the moon, yet rugged enough to withstand at least one week of multiple excursions in one-sixth Earth gravity on the lunar surface, the space agency added.

The lunar spacesuits may also be employed for multiple outings on the moon during long-duration missions of up to six months in the future, NASA officials said.

NASA is seeking lightweight spacesuit systems that are simultaneously easy to maintain and quick to don and doff, as well as comfortable to its astronaut wearer. Flexibility, reliability, the ability to be upgraded, as well as work efficiency are key attributes, the space agency said.

The test and development phase of the new contract runs from June 2008 to September 2013, with a second option for spacesuit production extending until September 2018, according to NASA's call for proposals.

NASA currently has supplies for about 12 different ensembles of its current spacesuit: the Extravehicular Mobility Unit (EMU). The spacesuit consists of a hard upper torso, helmet and mix-and-match arm, leg and glove components to suit individual astronauts.

Some of those spacesuits are aboard the ISS today alongside their Russian-built Orlan counterparts. But while the EMUs are currently NASA's go-to space garments for U.S. spacewalks outside the agency's shuttles and the ISS, they were designed solely for use in orbit and won't make the transition to the Orion spacecraft or future lunar missions.

"They'll still have some of the EMUs on the space station, but we won't be using them with the CEV," Dean said.