Around 2015, NASA plans to incorporate a spacesuit that amusingly looks like the one worn by Buzz Lightyear in "Toy Story" -- sans the shiny laser beam.
Before you laugh, know that these new digs aren't toy dressings; the Z-1 NASA spacesuit offers a plethora of advantages compared with the space agency's previous designs. Think of it as the baseline architecture for future NASA spacesuits.
One of the most advantageous additions is the rear-entry hatch, which lets an astronaut put on the suit from the back, completing the process by closing the rear hatch. The current Extravehicular Mobility Unit (EMU) spacesuit -- in use since 1982 -- requires the wearer to put the pant and top portions on separately, and then connect them together. Less fidgeting and connecting means more time for spacewalks and exploring alien worlds.
The rear-entry hatch coincides with another new feature: the suit port. Instead of being stored internally, the suit could attach to the exterior of a space vehicle (such as a rover), and the astronaut could simply enter the suit from inside the vehicle. As for mobility, the Z-1 excels in that area, too: The updated shoulder joints offer greater movement capabilities. A larger bubble helmet also enhances the astronaut's field of view.
While the Z-1 goes through prototype testing, NASA continues to work on a revised portable life-support system -- known as PLSS 2.0 -- that attaches directly to the suit. PLSS 2.0 condenses all the necessary life-support systems into a single backpack, and it doesn't require canisters to help filter carbon dioxide.
"We're looking to replace those capabilities with a Rapid Cycle Amine swingbed," NASA's PLSS engineer Carly Watts said in an internal NASA newsletter. "Every few minutes it will cycle and regenerate itself to remove CO2 real time during a spacewalk, so CO2 removal capability will no longer be a consumable."
The PLSS 2.0 design incorporates one other massive bonus: the Spacesuit Water Membrane Evaporator temperature regulator, which would actually make it possible for future astronauts to comfortably walk on extraterrestrial planets. "It can be used in a Martian environment," Watts says. "It can be frozen without damaging the unit, and it's not particularly sensitive to contamination."