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NASA's newest spacesuit gets gloves for touchscreens, finally

The outfit for astronauts is lighter, more flexible and more breathable than previous designs. But look! Touchscreen gloves!

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That's one small stitch for man, and one giant leap for mankind.

NASA unveiled on Wednesday a new spacesuit for astronauts who'll fly its Boeing Starliner, with some very modern touches.

At 20 pounds, the tailored Starliner suit is 10 pounds lighter than previous designs, with form-fitting material at the elbows and knees to give astronauts more flexibility. Its material also features vents that let water out but keep air inside.

"The most important part is that the suit will keep you alive," astronaut Eric Boe said in a statement. "Complicated systems have more ways they can break, so simple is better on something like this."

During emergencies, the suits can be pressurized to protect astronauts. The helmet, equipped with a headset, will also be a part of the suit as part of the redesign. In the past, astronaut helmets had been a separate component of the spacesuit.

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NASA's newest spacesuit has some major upgrades, like gloves that work for touchscreens!

NASA

The Starliner is a crew capsule designed for NASA's Commercial Crew Development program, an effort to broaden space travel beyond the confines of government-led missions. The private sector has been front and center in recent months in rocket launches and test flights by the likes of Elon Musk's SpaceX, Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin and Richard Branson's space tourism-minded Virgin Galactic.

Astronauts have been testing the newly designed spacesuit by sitting inside a mockup of the Starliner, reaching for control panels and climbing into different spots to make sure it's functional. Flight tests with astronauts wearing the suits are expected to start in 2018.

As a bonus feature, the gloves will work on touchscreens, bringing humanity that much closer to the space selfie.

If nothing else, the spacesuits will at least be a fashion statement -- they're meant to be an emergency backup to the Starliner's redundant life support systems.

"If everything goes perfect on a mission, then you don't need a spacesuit," NASA's subsystem manager for spacesuits Richard Watson said. "It's like having a fire extinguisher close by in the cockpit. You need it to be effective if it is needed."

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