NASA unveiled the newest prototype in its next-generation Z-series spacesuit platform on April 30, 2014.
In March, the space organization asked the public to vote on the exterior design for its prototype Z-2 spacesuit. Voters were presented with three design options:
- “Biomimicry” – drawing inspiration from the bioluminescent qualities of aquatic creatures found deep in the ocean, and also from the world’s scaly fish and reptiles.
- “Technology” – a future-inspired design with illuminated features to enhance crew identification.
- “Trends in Society” – an attempt at representing what everyday clothes will look like in the near future.
These three designs for the Z-2 prototype spacesuit were produced as part of a collaboration with ILC Dover and Philadelphia University with the intent of highlighting various mobility features NASA is excited to test.
The space administration announced in a press release that the “Technology” design won the vote by a sizeable margin. With nearly 150,000 votes, the “Technology” design garnered more than 63% of the votes, followed by the “Biomimicry” design with more than 22% of the votes, leaving the “Trends in Society” design as the least favorite among voters with slightly more than 14% of the votes.
Although some have appropriately commented on the spacesuit’s resemblance to the outfits in Disney’s sci-fi movie Tron, NASA officials have made sure to point out that the spacesuit’s exterior design serves more purpose than providing sweet sci-fi aesthetics. NASA explains, “The cover layer of a prototype suit is important as it serves to protect the suit against abrasion and snags during the rigors of testing.” This suit will feature design elements, like electroluminescent wiring, which has reportedly never been used in a spacesuit.
NASA seemingly has an affinity for Disney, because the Z-1 design that this new Z-2 design replaces strongly resembled Buzz Lightyear’s suit from Disney’s Toy Story. Time magazine named the Z-1 spacesuit one of the best inventions in 2012. Adding an additional futuristic element to this suit, Mashable explains that the suit “will also be made using 3D-printed parts and incorporate human laser scans to fit each astronaut accordingly.”
But don’t expect to see the Z-2 prototype in space anytime soon. This new design will be tested in space-like environments and NASA hopes to have a final version of the suit ready by November 2014. But NASA clearly states, “Because the Z-series is still in the prototype, or non-flight, phase, the design won’t be making a trip to space.”
So, if these suits aren’t going to space, why is NASA investing the time and effort to develop and design them? NASA’s press release explains, “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.”