NASA and Axiom Space Inc. provided a first, limited look at the new spacesuits that will be worn by the next astronauts to land on the Moon.
The Axiom Extravehicular Mobility Unit (AxEMU) spacesuit that will be worn for the Artemis missions was only partially revealed at an event at Johnson Space Center in Houston, in order not to give away any proprietary information about the suit.
"Since a spacesuit worn on the Moon must be white to reflect heat and protect astronauts from extreme high temperatures," Axiom Space said in a press release, "a cover layer is currently being used for display purposes only to conceal the suit's proprietary design."
What was on display, however, was the improved functionality, performance and capability the new suit has, compared to the Apollo suits and even the current spacesuits worn by astronauts on the International Space Station when they do an EVA.
"We have not had a new suit for 40 years, since the suits designed for the Space Shuttle program," said Vanessa Wyche, the Director of NASA's Johnson Space Center, speaking at the reveal event.
"Axiom Space has taken the data and research that NASA has provided and has come up with a more functional suit. We'll continue to work together with them to make sure we have a safe suit."
Axiom Space engineer Jim Stein wore a prototype of the new suit, walking around, doing squats, lunges, kneeling down and more, as well as displaying how much flexibility the arms of the new suit provide.
"This represents a huge improvement over the Apollo suits," said Russell Ralston, deputy program manager for Extravehicular Activity at Axiom Space. "The Artemis astronauts will be more comfortable and have an easier time maneuvering, such as being able to easily reach down to pick up rocks."
NASA said the spacesuit builds on the agency's spacesuit prototype developments and incorporates the latest technology, enhanced mobility, and added protection from hazards at the Moon. NASA also said the development of these next-generation spacesuits by Axiom Space is a "significant milestone … in space exploration and enabling a deeper understanding of the solar system and beyond."
The Artemis program intends to land the first woman and the first person of color on the Moon. The Artemis III mission is scheduled to land near the lunar south pole in 2025.
Unlike the previous NASA suits, the new AxEMU is a one-piece suit with a 'hatch' on the back – a back entry design – that allows the astronauts to step into the suit from behind. It has a hard torso that provides the core structure of the suit, with arms and legs that have a variety of mobility joints.
The arms and legs can be changed out for custom fitting. The portable life support system, aka, the backpack on the rear of the suit provides life support systems for heat and cooling, air to breath and even food and water.
A helmet bubble is mounted to the hard upper torso, and on top is the visor assembly that includes lights to allow astronauts to see in shadowed areas or during lunar night. There will be HD video cameras to record and transmit the EVAs so those of us back on Earth can follow along.
Ralston said new gloves are a critical part of the design, as working long hours on the lunar surface requires flexibility and durability. The new boots are fully insulated, as working in the permanently shadowed craters on the lunar south pole will be especially cold.
Ten years of research was conducted by NASA's Extravehicular Activity and Human Surface Mobility Program office at JSC, and shared with the suit designers at Axiom.
"We had a lot of tough requirements," said Lara Kearney, manager of that program. "The Moon is a hostile place and the south pole is going to be a challenge, especially with thermal requirements. We were also looking for more mobility so the Artemis astronauts can move more effectively than during Apollo. But we brought all our knowledge and experience to the table to provide expertise, advice and guidance for Axiom Space."
For the dark cover shown in today's reveal, Axiom Space said they collaborated with costume designer Esther Marquis from the Apple TV+ series, "For All Mankind" to create a custom cover layer using the Axiom Space logo and brand colors.
You can learn more about the AxEMU at Axiom Space's website.