In 2012 Nasa unveiled the Z-1, the first prototype in its next-generation spacesuit platform, the Z-series. The Z-1 was named as one of Time Magazine’s Inventions of the Year 2012 and since Nasa has been working on prototypes of the Z-2, together with artists from the University of Philadelphia, one of which will be chosen by public vote.
In the future astronauts will be venturing into deep space to planets never explored before. For this purpose, Nasa’s engineers have been working on a new class of ‘soft’ spacesuit that provides more mobility than previous iterations. The first prototype in this Z-series, the Z-1, was launched in 2012 and the lessons learnt from the testing of it has led to the Z-2.
The Z-2 suit does not only incorporate new technology but the cover layer features some design elements never used in a spacesuit before. These were worked on together with ILC, Nasa’s primary suit vendor, and artists from the University of Philadelphia, and the resulting three prototypes have been revealed and the public got to vote for the one they’d like to see built.
“We opened it to the vote because it’s a great way to get people’s attention. It’s a lot more fun and engaging to pick something and make your voice heard while we take the chance to teach everyone about the really cool work Nasa is doing on spacesuits,” says Daniel Huot of Nasa’s Johnson Space Center.
For option A – the ‘Biomimicry’ suit – the inspiration came from areas on Earth that are similar in harshness to that of space, specifically the ocean. For instance, the electroluminescent wire across the upper torso mirrors the bioluminescent qualities found in aquatic creatures at in-credible depths.
For option B – the ‘Technology’ suit – the aim was to pay tribute to past suits but also show what could be possible in the future. Design features include an electroluminescent blue figure across the upper torso, exposed rotation bearings and collapsing pleats for mobility.
For option C – the ‘Trends in Society’ suit – the engineers wanted to showcase future trends in terms of wearable technologies. The bright colour scheme reflects what may appear in sportswear in the future.
The sketches above are the original 2D art provided by the designers. The specific style lines, materials, patterning, colour palate and design features shown were selected by NASA from dozens of various designs and permutations. Some features have been slightly modified from the original based on feedback when translating the design to 3D suit models.
Hundreds of thousands of votes were cast and the official NASA spacesuit winner announcement and final photos will be made on 30 April. The winning suit will be completed by November 2014 before undergoing testing, the results of which will help guide Nasa’s engineers in designing the next suit in the Z-series.