NASA has announced the details of the first new spacesuit since the Space Shuttle, which will allow humans to return to the lunar surface and maybe even travel further beyond. But why does NASA need new spacesuits when they already have some in use?
When the Space Shuttle entered service, it came with a new spacesuit: the Extravehicular Mobility Unit (hence EMU). It remains the main operational spacesuit for NASA, despite its 30-year-old parts and even older design, and has allowed for many feats of human engineering. However, with this storied history has come deterioration: out of the original fleet of 14 flight-ready suits, only 8 remain thanks to a variety of accidents.
This inability to use current hardware has made the development of a new suit a major problem for the Artemis Program’s ambitions. As such, NASA has focused its resources on one suit design, as opposed to the many it was designing and studying previously: the xEMU, or Exploration Extravehicular Mobility Unit.
Building on the EMU’s basic design, the new xEMU will incorporate many design features of the 21st century. Compared to the old A7L suits from Apollo, the new suits will be more flexible, adaptable and much easier to put on, with multiple new features. These include a back entry port (similar to the port on Russia’s Orlan suit), modular design, high-speed data transceiver, sacrificial helmet shield (to protect from lunar dust), and HD video system, among many others.