NASA held a design contest for its next prototype spacesuit, and with 233,431 votes cast, the Tron-inspired design won, netting 63% of the total vote. The futuristic spacesuit will begin testing in November of this year, and while the design appears strictly cosmetic, the functionality of the new ‘Z-2’ spacesuit indicates greater ambition than merely attracting the attention of sci-fi fans.
These changes demonstrate NASA’s interest in landing astronauts on Mars sometime in the near future. Quoted from NASA’s official site: “With the agency laser focused on a path to Mars, work to develop the technologies astronauts one day will use to live and work on Mars has already begun. Each iteration of the Z-series will advance new technologies that one day will be used in a suit worn by the first humans to step foot on the Red Planet.”
NASA goes on to describe the key advances in the Z-2 over its predecessor, the Z-1. One of the most significant differences is that the Z-2’s upper torso is made out of a hard composite, compared to the Z-1’s softer composite material. The Z-2’s upper torso provides the “much needed long-term durability that a planetary Extravehicular Activity (EVA) suit will require.” In addition, the Z-2’s shoulder and hip joints have also been greatly improved, the result of two years of testing and extensive evaluations focused on ensuring improved mobility.
The materials the suit is made out of are also compatible with a full-vacuum environment, which suggests the suit will evolve repeatedly before a human ever touches Martian soil. Given the suit’s ambitious, multifaceted purpose, more long-term testing will be required before this futuristic suit ever reaches space.