NASA Searches for New Spacesuit Tailors

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.
(Image: © AP Photo/Pat Sullivan.)

NASA islooking for a new space tailor to design and build the spacesuits to be worn byfuture astronauts as they bounce around the surface of the moon.

The U.S. agencycalled on prospective spacesuit designers Tuesday to submit proposals forspaceworthy duds flexible enough to allow astronauts to work outside NASA'sfuture OrionCrew Exploration Vehicle (CEV) or on the lunar surface.

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

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

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

ForISS-bound flights, the spacesuits would protect up to six crewmembers against cabinleaks and allow astronauts to perform unplanned spacewalks, NASA said. Thefour-person lunar missions, meanwhile, would require a quartet of newspacesuits versatile enough for use during the weightless flight to and fromthe moon, yet rugged enough to withstand at least one week of multipleexcursions in one-sixth Earth gravity onthe lunar surface, the space agency added.

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

NASA isseeking lightweightspacesuit systems that are simultaneously easy to maintain and quick to donand doff, as well as comfortable to its astronaut wearer. Flexibility,reliability, the ability to be upgraded, as well as work efficiency are keyattributes, the space agency said.

The testand development phase of the new contract runs from June 2008 to September2013, with a second option for spacesuit production extending until September2018, according to NASA's call for proposals.

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

Some ofthose spacesuits are aboard the ISS today alongside their Russian-built Orlancounterparts. But while the EMUs are currently NASA's go-to space garments for U.S. spacewalksoutside the agency's shuttles and the ISS, they were designed solely for use inorbit and won't make the transition to the Orion spacecraft or future lunarmissions.

"They'llstill have some of the EMUs on the space station, but we won't be using themwith the CEV," Dean said.

 

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