NASA’s Z-1 testbed spacesuit scores points for fit and function, but the dweeb factor is off the charts.
NASA recently revealed a new high-tech spacesuit prototype, the Z-1, and it appears that, at least in a fashion sense, failure is an option. No one loves NASA more than Geek and our readers, but God almighty, did this thing have to make the wearer look exactly like Buzz Lightyear, lime-green trim and all? We’re glad Neil Armstrong isn’t here to see this. We can only assume NASA is hoping that aliens will be monitoring broadcasts of Toy Story en route and when they arrive, our astronauts can meet them with a familiar face. Perhaps the ISS crew can start wearing Woody-style cowboy costumes to complete the effect? To be fair, this is a prototype, so it’s possible NASA is just having a little fun. If that’s the case, please quit f’ing with us, NASA! Don’t you know we take this stuff way too seriously?
Moving on, the suit itself is a functional melding of two special-purpose spacesuits, one used for walking on the moon and another for maneuvering in space. Planned for duty sometime after 2017, the Z-1, built by NASA contractor ILC Dover and based in part on its MK III spacesuit demonstrator, is tougher, thinner, more flexible (though heavier) and designed for both microgravity work in space along with walking on large bodies, like planets or asteroids. “One of the big differences is the rear-entry design,” says Amy Ross, one of the engineers responsible for Z-1 development. “The shuttle EMU (Extravehicular Mobility Unit) splits at the waist and you put the pants and the top on separately and they connect in the middle. Whereas with this suit, the subject crawls in through the back, and then we just shut the door.”
This new, and unfortunately named, “rear-entry” design could also eliminate the time-consuming need to pressurize and depressurize airlocks as astronauts come and go. The back of each suit can simply hook up to the outside of the ship through a docking port, and the astronaut can easily climb in and out as though the suit were a mini space pod.
No word yet on whether forthcoming working models of Z-series suit will include a giant red LED pretending to be a laser.
Suit Up! The Z-series spacesuit offers a clever mix of fit and functionality.
 Helmet — A 14″ bubble design allows for maximum visibility. Special coatings eliminate UV glare and radiation exposure.
 Rear-Entry Port — Allows the wearer to easily climb into and out of the one-piece Z suit, similar to a crafty Russian design used since 1977. A docking ring can be mounted to the external hatch on a vehicle or ship for easy exit/entrance without an airlock.
 Improved Joints — Built-in bearings at the shoulder, waist, elbows and knees extend range of motion and mobility.
 Modular Design — Suit components, made of layers of urethane-coated nylon and rigid polyester, can be mixed, matched and easily replaced when worn out.
 Enhanced Radiation Protection — Allows for longer suit use in unshielded environments, including the vacuum of space, on the moon or on a planet with a thin atmosphere, such as Mars.