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NASA selects new prototype space suit design for testing

NASA Z-2 spacesuit
NASA Z-2 spacesuit

NASA announced Wednesday that thanks to an overwhelming 63 percent of the popular vote, the Z-2 space suit prototype will be the “technology” design or what Gizmodo called the “Tron look.” It is so called because of the utilitarian look combined with electroluminescent wiring that makes the wearer look like a character from the iconic movie.

The suit will be built using a laser scanner that will create a custom made fit based on the astronaut’s own body features. Then much of the suit can be created using a 3-d printer. Thus the suit will be cheaper, more durable, and easier to manufacture than the traditional space suits NASA has used over the years.

The Z-2 will feature a hard body upper torso piece as well as shoulder and hip joint pieces that will be designed for maximum mobility. The suit will be made of composite materials with a few for durability and protection of the astronaut in a variety of space environments. The helmet will have a transparent 360 degree view with a heads up display.

The Z-2, being a prototype, will not fly in space. But it will be tested in a variety of ways at the Johnson Manned Spaceflight Center in Houston. It will be tested in a vacuum chamber, the neutral buoyancy lab where astronauts train for space walks, and on a simulated Martian surface. The results of the test will be used to design the Z-3 suit.

NASA is taking great pains to point out that the next generation space suit is being designed with an eye toward use by future explorers of Mars. But versions will no doubt also be used for micro gravity space walks as well as the exploration of other celestial bodies, such as the surface of the Moon. Testing is expected to begin in November, 2014.