HOUSTON – A prototype of the spacesuit that Artemis III astronauts will eventually use to explore the moon for the first time in more than 50 years was shown off Wednesday on a stage in Texas.
Its wearer — Jim Stein, chief engineer of EVA Systems at Axiom Space — held a little girl’s hand as she struggled to remember what she was going to ask the mostly-seated panel of Axiom and NASA officials at Space Center Houston.
“Hi Charlotte, I met you a minute ago, you had a lot more to say then,” Axiom-2 Pilot John Shoffner said to her. “So, I think your question is: ‘How far away is the Earth from Mars?’ Is that what you’d like to know?”
“Um, I don’t know,” Charlotte replied.
[TRENDING: Become a News 6 Insider]
Axiom-2 Commander Peggy Whitson leaned in, and Charlotte learned then that Mars is more than 120 million miles away from Earth, a trip of some nine months that Whitson added she would sign up for if given the chance.
The Red Planet is NASA’s ultimate destination following a good show with the Artemis program, according to the agency. Facing harsher conditions than ever before in planned excursions near the lunar South Pole, the crew of Artemis III — to include the first woman and the first person of color to walk on the moon — will entrust their mobility and safety to Axiom Space.
“We’re going back to the moon, but we’re going to the South Pole of the moon this time, and why are we going there? It’s challenging, right? We’re gonna learn more. There’s water ice there, water is hydrogen for fuel and oxygen to breathe. We are going to learn how to operate on the moon for extended periods of time and learn how to operate away from planet Earth and utilize the resources on the moon, and all of this is in preparation for eventually going on to Mars, and we’re making those first steps now. We’ve got to have an EVA mobility suit in order to make that happen and this is the suit that’s going to do it,” said Bob Cabana, NASA associate administrator.
Axiom Space in June of last year was chosen along with Collins Aerospace to develop NASA’s next generation of spacesuits, instructed to have units ready for demonstration in a “relative environment” — either on the International Space Station or in a simulated environment — by 2025. Come September, Axiom Space secured the contract to tailor the Artemis III mission.
The new suit — black in color with blue and orange accents, a scheme which the panel explained would be primarily white in its final version due to thermal necessities — was shown to be more flexible than the equipment last used to walk the moon in the 1970s. Wearing it, Stein was able to go as far as bending down and taking a knee, demonstrating a new range of motion that previous EVA systems would likely fail to replicate in practice.
“We have a lot of tough requirements on it, so these guys (Axiom Space) have their work cut out for them. The moon is definitely a hostile place and the South Pole is going to really be a challenge, so a lot of thermal requirements. We are really looking for improved mobility so that our astronauts can operate more efficiently and effectively than they were able to do many years ago in Apollo and then of course we have really stringent safety requirements,” said Lara Kearney, NASA Johnson Extravehicular Activity and Human Surface Mobility Program manager. “Our role as NASA is ... to make sure that all of our expertise and our data and our facilities are made available to them and then we will be in there hand-in-hand with them, helping make sure that they are successful, bringing all of our knowledge to the table, all of our experience along with our friends from the crew office, just providing them our expertise and advice and guidance as they go forward.”
The reveal included a peck of fellow NASA and Axiom Space participants, such as Vanessa Wyche, NASA Johnson Space Center director; NASA astronaut Kate Rubins; Michael Suffredini, Axiom Space president and CEO; Mark Greeley, program manager for Extravehicular Activity at Axiom Space; and Russell Ralston, deputy program manager for Extravehicular Activity at Axiom Space.
According to NASA, the path that’s so far led to Wednesday morning’s showcase has reflected a new approach to working with its commercial partners in a way that “leverages industry capabilities and NASA’s expertise to provide spacewalk and moonwalk services as safely, effectively, and efficiently as possible.”
New spacesuits that allow humans to explore the lunar surface advance our capability for human exploration in space. Under Artemis, new exploration spacesuits and other human surface mobility systems, the Space Launch System rocket, the Orion Spacecraft, ground systems, Gateway, and human landing systems, will enable NASA to return humans to the Moon and establish a long-term presence there for scientific discovery. This experience prepares us for the next giant leap: sending astronauts to Mars.Mar 8, 2023 MEDIA ADVISORY M23-024 | NASA, Axiom Space to Reveal Artemis Moon Mission Spacesuit
Watch the news conference again in the media player below.
Get today’s headlines in minutes with Your Florida Daily: