NASA has revealed the new spacesuit that astronauts will wear to explore the Moon under the Artemis program. Created by Axiom Space, the new suit is designed to improve mobility for astronauts working on the lunar surface.
Developed for the Artemis III mission, which will see the first woman and person of color walking on the Moon, the prototype suit was revealed at an event on Wednesday, March 15th. The prototype includes a dark gray cover, which was designed by costume designer Esther Marquis, who worked on the TV series For All Mankind, but the actual suit will be white for thermal reasons.
“NASA’s partnership with Axiom is critical to landing astronauts on the Moon and continuing American leadership in space. Building on NASA’s years of research and expertise, Axiom’s next generation spacesuits will not only enable the first woman to walk on the Moon, but they will also open opportunities for more people to explore and conduct science on the Moon than ever before,” NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said in a statement.
NASA astronauts have used the same basic spacesuit design since the Space Shuttle days, with the technology remaining essentially unchanged for 40 years. While the old suit design has proven itself over this time, it is particularly limiting in terms of the range of movement it allows.
For astronauts to walk, bend, and crouch comfortably — all of which is particularly important when working on a low-gravity environment like the Moon as opposed to the microgravity environment of the International Space Station — a new suit was needed.
The new suit prototype — called the Axiom Extravehicular Mobility Unit, or AxEMU — is based on some of the developments made by NASA for its Exploration Extravehicular Mobility Unit (xEMU) prototype. The focus of the developments was on issues like thermal requirements to deal with the cold temperatures found on the Moon’s south pole, as well as improved mobility and safety requirements.
During the reveal event, Jim Stein, chief engineer at Axiom Space, wore the suit and demonstrated being able to twist, bend, squat, and crouch down while wearing it. The new design has more joints, particularly in the lower half, enabling movements that would be impossible in the older design. This will make it easier for astronauts to perform tasks like walking and picking things up from the ground while in the lunar environment.
The new helmet has features like a light band over the helmet bubble to enable better vision and an HD video camera on the side so astronaut POV video can be livestreamed back to Earth. The boots were another area that needed to be particularly well insulated to enable astronauts to work in the cold conditions of permanently shadowed regions of the Moon. Another major difference from the previous suit design is that the astronaut enters the AxEMU from the back rather than getting into the bottom then top as before.
In a departure from previous convention, NASA will not own the spacesuits itself but will instead have a service contract with Axiom Space to provide the hardware. Lara Kearney, manager of NASA’s Extravehicular Activity and Human Surface Mobility program, compared the contract to renting a car rather than owning it.
“NASA will be in the role still of mission control and making the mission execution decisions, but Axiom is going to be right there with us, making sure that suit is safe as we have our astronauts walking on the surface of the Moon,” Kearney explained during the reveal event.