NASA Wants Your Vote on Futuristic Z-2 Spacesuit Design

New Z-2 Spacesuit Design: 'Biomimicry'
NASA's "Biomimicry" Z-2 spacesuit design, one of three different concepts, draws from an environment with many parallels to the harshness of space: the world's oceans. Mirroring the bioluminescent qualities of aquatic creatures found at incredible depths, and the scaly skin of fish and reptiles found across the globe, this design reflects the qualities that protect some of Earth's toughest creatures. (Image credit: NASA Advanced Concepts Lab - POC: Alberto Bertolin)

NASA wants your help to put the finishing touches on its new spacesuit.

The space agency is asking the public to select the "cover layer" for its prototype Z-2 spacesuit — a 21st-century astronaut suit that looks like it's one part Buzz Lightyear and one part "Tron." The first Z-2 spacesuit should be completed by November.

There are three spacesuit design options to vote for: "Biomimicry," which draws inspiration from the bioluminescent creatures that dwell deep in Earth's oceans; the starker and more futuristic-leaning "Technology;" and "Trends in Society," which aims to represent what everyday clothes will look like in the near future. All three designs incorporate glowing light-up segments. [See photos of NASA's advanced Z-2 spacesuit design concepts]

NASA's "Trends in Society" Z-2 spacesuit design is based on what every day clothes may look like in the not-too-distant future. One of three different Z-2 spacesuit concepts, this suit uses electroluminescent wire and a bright color scheme to mimic the appearance of sportswear and the emerging world of wearable technologies. The design specifically includes gore pleats with contrast stitching throughout to highlight mobility, an exposed bearing at the hip, and electroluminescent wire and patches of varying styles across both the upper and lower torso. Image released March 24, 2014. (Image credit: NASA Advanced Concepts Lab - POC: Alberto Bertolin)

A spacesuit's cover layer delivers more than just aesthetics, NASA officials said.

"The cover layer of a prototype suit is important as it serves to protect the suit against abrasion and snags during the rigors of testing," project officials wrote in an online description of the Z-2 design voting plan. "With the Z-2, we're looking forward to employing cover layer design elements never used in a spacesuit before."

The Z-2 is the latest design in NASA's next-generation line of spacesuits, which is known as the Z-series. The previous iteration, the Z-1 spacesuit, was named one of Time Magazine's best inventions in 2012.

NASA's 'Technology' Z-2 spacesuit design, one of three difference concepts, pays homage to spacesuit achievements of the past while incorporating subtle elements of the future. By using Luminex wire and light-emitting patches, this design puts a new spin on spacewalking standards such as ways to identify crew members. The design specifically includes electroluminescent wire and patches across the upper and lower torso, exposed rotating bearings, collapsing pleats for mobility and highlighted movement, and abrasion resistant panels on the lower torso. Image released March 24, 2014. (Image credit: NASA Advanced Concepts Lab - POC: Alberto Bertolin)

While the Z-series is being developed to fly in space, no suits in the line are ready to do so yet. When it's finished and built, the Z-2 will undergo a battery of tests that assess its off-Earth readiness.

"We will be conducting multiple vacuum chamber tests, including one series at full vacuum, mimicking the lack of atmosphere found in outer space," NASA officials wrote. "The suit will be tested at the Neutral Buoyancy Lab (NBL), the huge indoor pool NASA uses to train every astronaut in the technique of spacewalking. Further testing at a rocky Martian surface analog site at the Johnson Space Center along with other settings will help us evaluate mobility, comfort and performance of the suit."

The results of these trials will guide engineers as they design the next suit in the Z-series.

To see the designs and vote for your favorite, go to Voting is open through April 15.

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Mike Wall
Senior Space Writer

Michael Wall is a Senior Space Writer with and joined the team in 2010. He primarily covers exoplanets, spaceflight and military space, but has been known to dabble in the space art beat. His book about the search for alien life, "Out There," was published on Nov. 13, 2018. Before becoming a science writer, Michael worked as a herpetologist and wildlife biologist. He has a Ph.D. in evolutionary biology from the University of Sydney, Australia, a bachelor's degree from the University of Arizona, and a graduate certificate in science writing from the University of California, Santa Cruz. To find out what his latest project is, you can follow Michael on Twitter.