Spacesuits must endure the harsh conditions of space, vacuums, extreme temperatures, and yet be flexible enough to work and live in. The complexity of spacesuits became evident in 2021, when NASA estimated spending $1 billion to develop suits for the Moon. The Artemis Moon mission requires new spacesuits, but the way NASA makes them today is expensive and time-consuming since it sources the various components from different vendors.
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A new project that would fabricate suits by scanning an astronaut and 3D printing them was selected for development and funding by NASA. The suit is designed to provide astronauts with needed space solutions for the Mars missions. The project was presented by former NASA astronaut and engineer Bonnie Jeanne Dunbar.
For Astronauts By Astronauts, The Spacesuit Digital Thread
Dunbar began working with NASA in 1979 and became an astronaut in 1981. She flew the Space Shuttles Challenger, Columbia, Atlantis, and Endeavour. In total, she has accumulated over 50 days in space. Through NASA’s Innovative Advanced Concepts program, Dunbar’s 3D suits project is among the 17 selected to receive a total of $5.1 million for development. Another selected project will develop tech to extract oxygen from Mars’ atmosphere.
The 3D spacesuit scanner-printer proposal will investigate making cost-effective high-performance spacesuits for Mars and beyond using an integral system and digital tools. Missions to Mars face problems like repairing or fabricating spacesuits on site. This new system would be installed on the Red Planet and be completely independent and self-sufficient. By 2030, NASA expects daily walks on Mars, and once a base is installed astronauts are expected to rotate. The benefits of spacesuit in-situ become evident when considering future missions.
Historically, NASA has made custom suits for each astronaut from Mercury to Gemini to Apollo, while keeping astronauts happy with their suits. However during the Space Shuttle program, plug-and-play suits were put together with different-sized parts due to the large number of astronauts involved (over 200). Astronauts suffered shoulder injuries, pressure points, fingernail loss, and nearly a 50 percent loss of effective strength. Former astronaut and NASA honoree Dunbar wants to build a new spacesuit technology to keep her fellow future deep space explorers safe, comfortable and sleek on Mars.