Our names are Ben Peters, Ian Meginnis and Grier Wilt and we are working on NASA’s next generation spacesuit development.

Fifty years ago today, Ed White conducted the first-ever U.S. spacewalk during the Gemini IV mission. This was the first step in a capability which one day accomplished things like servicing the Hubble Space Telescope and building the International Space Station. Now, we are working on new spacesuit technology to get us further into space – to an asteroid or Mars.

Follow #SuitUp on social media to see NASA spacewalking memories of the past and what is to come in the future. Check out this video - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z62z64-AyH0 – and website – www.nasa.gov/suitup for more.

Proof: https://twitter.com/NASA_Johnson/status/605853769125863426

Oh and ask us anything!

Comments: 195 • Responses: 29  • Date: 

Chrisguy5050 karma

Has any part of the spacesuit stayed the same over the past 50 years?

JSCNASA48 karma

As you might imagine, suits have changed a lot over the last 50 years to accommodate changing mission needs and advancements in technology. Despite these changes, we still use the same types of gas connectors that we used during the lunar missions. Much of the support equipment that was built during the Apollo-era still works, so we make new suits compatible with these systems. No sense in reinventing new systems if the old ones still work! -imm

european_american39 karma

What do you think will be the next major advance in spacesuit technology? Will we ever have the nimble suits like they have in a lot of movies?

JSCNASA43 karma

Great question! We’re always looking at new and potentially game-changing technologies to help us build better suits for exploration. Some of our research focuses of advanced materials development. Areas of interest for us include self-healing suit bladders, lightweight titanium ball-bearings, and advanced carbon composite structures for the hard elements of the suit. Most of this type of research is focused on making current suit designs lighter weight or more robust.

We have begun projects to merge Robotic technology into suit components. I am currently working with JSC’s robotics division to create a Robotic-assisted EVA glove. The benefit of exoskeleton-type work would be to enable astronauts to complete more physically rigorous tasks, which could be important during planetary EVAs.

We are working on more conformal suit technologies, like what we call a mechanical counter pressure (MCP) suit technologies. (See MIT Bio-Suit) We are currently looking at a mechanical-counter pressure glove design. MCP technologies have been around for a long time, but haven’t yet reached the technical maturity for a flight system. It’s very difficult to maintain even skin pressure over a complex geometry like a person, especially in motion. There are also some other issues to solve including how thermal insulation might be addressed, how donning and doffing the suit could be done, and proper sizing for different people. All of these are more difficult for an MCP suit.

It’s hard to say when, but I believe advances in smart materials will eventually enable MCP suits, but it likely won’t be feasible for a flight-like design for at least 10 years. -BP

Sutaru32 karma

Did you like the movie Interstellar? :P

JSCNASA38 karma

A resounding YES from all of us here! Did you?

liongrad43027 karma

How do current spacesuits hold up against radiation in space? Do you see any big advances in this area of protection?

JSCNASA30 karma

Current space suits do a “good enough” job of protecting astronauts against radiation (mostly via outer reflective layers), but we really just try to limit their exposure to a radiation environment. Honestly, I think it would be difficult to 100% protect an astronaut (in a suit) against radiation for missions outside of the Earth’s protective magnetic field. For these missions, we would probably just monitor their radiation exposure and try to minimize it as much as possible. Unfortunately, space travel doesn’t come without increased risk! -imm

crwm22 karma

Dava Newman's work on the MIT Biosuit seems to have revived the idea of a skintight pressure suit that would be much more flexible.

What do you think of this work and are we likely to see actual suits tested in the near future ?

JSCNASA27 karma

I would love to see an operational Mechanical counter pressure (or MCP) suit. They offer a lot of potential benefits over traditional suits (weight, bulkiness, etc). However, there are many technical challenges that need to be addressed before we see an operational MCP suit. Advances in materials and construction techniques are a couple of big challenges, and we view these as long-term issues (we won’t solve the problems tomorrow). That being said, we ourselves are actively funding development of these materials, including new MCP gloves. In the meantime, we are looking at developing flight capability to support missions in the next 5-15 years. -imm

NorbitGorbit21 karma

what's the state of research for a spacesuit in which an astronaut would essentially not remove for months at a time?

JSCNASA24 karma

We aren't currently researching a pressurized suit that could sustain someone for months at a time but we have been studying how we could keep someone alive in a space suit during a few weeks at a time. There are feed ports to get food to the astronaut inside the suit, and the astronauts wear a diaper called the Maximum Absorbency Garment (MAG). I wouldn't want to know how though that suit would smell though. Bleh -BP

IvoBach17 karma

What is the major insulating material which you use to keep the astronauts warm in space?

Do you think any of the technology used for the spacesuits could be used in the jackets, clothes, and materials we are currently using and wearing?

Thanks :-)

JSCNASA16 karma

Good question! To thermally insulate the suit from space, the suit has several layers of aluminized Mylar and Dacron. We also “paint” the suit white to help reflect the sun’s rays. A big problem is actually keeping the astronaut cool. The human body generates a lot of heat, so the astronaut wears a garment that circulates chilled water. -imm

oreesama15 karma

how often do you do the moon walk?

JSCNASA20 karma

Everyday. - GW

Fan_Boyy11 karma

Have you tried to incorporate overlapping layers of aerogel in your spacesuits to help regulate temperature fluctuations?

JSCNASA10 karma

Great question! We have actually already started to look into this. Not too long ago, NASA funded an effort to use aerogel as a new TMG material for Mars. The current TMG would not work very well on Mars (due to the Mars atmosphere), but aerogel is a good, insulating alternative. Check out a picture of that design: https://gcd.larc.nasa.gov/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/FS_EVAglove_factsheet_140916.pdf -IM

Captainyoni8 karma

How does an astronaut deal with an itch while in a spacesuit?

JSCNASA8 karma

Great question! As you can imagine, the suit is pretty cozy. Astronauts are unable to pull their arm out of the suit's arm to scratch anything, so they are somewhat out of luck. There is a val salva device inside the suit, near the helmet, that astronauts use to equalize their ears and sometimes this comes in handy if they have an itch on their nose.

EditingAndLayout8 karma

When developing next-generation spacesuits, how much consideration is given to saving astronauts from unforeseen events/emergencies (e.g., space debris, radiation, sudden changes in pressure, or fire)? Would the suits in use today have saved the Apollo 1 astronauts?

JSCNASA16 karma

That's an important question for us both in design and operations. Presently, every astronaut is trained and evaluated on their ability to rescue a second crewmember who may have gone incapacitated or suffered another emergency and bring them back to the airlock within 30 minutes.

The 30 minutes is dictated by the suit's ability to maintain pressure and deliver oxygen to the crewmember should their primary oxygen supply be depleted or suit pressure integrity be compromised. Safety is the highest priority in design, so much consideration is given to saving astronauts from unforeseen events or emergencies. Some examples include the backup oxygen pack, multiple layers of the suit which are flame retardant and protect against micrometeoroid strikes, relief valves to protect for over-pressurization, etc.

Unfortunately, there were a lot of factors that went into the Apollo 1 disaster -- even a perfect spacesuit might not have saved them. -GW

Exosere8 karma

With the spacesuit incident where Luca Parmitano's helmet filled up with water during EVA, how are you (in this next iteration of space suits) going to combat/prevent problems like this in the future?

JSCNASA12 karma

Great question! We're constantly learning about our space suit and how it operates in the unique environment of space allowing us to continually improve upon our designs. The part of the suit that allowed this to happen is being redesigned for our new suits. The new suit will have separate cooling and ventilation loops to eliminate the risk of water creeping into the ventilation loop.

TheCaptainDamnIt8 karma

Without any clear goals currently laid out by the political class, or seeing how they change constantly (We go back to moon? To Mars? Astroid capture?) what operational goals are you using to design the next gen suits too? I would imagine a suit made for spacewalks would have different needs than a suit made to walk on mars? Or do they share enough similarities that you can version them easily off one design?

JSCNASA10 karma

This is definitely a challenge we're faced with. We're currently working to design a suit that isn't what we call "destination specific". An exploration space suit is going to need to do a lot of similar things regardless of where it goes. For the Moon and Mars, we're going to need to be dust-resistant and enable good walking mobility. Our suits are going to have improved upper body and shoulder mobility, which should enable us to do better microgravity EVAs. There are some areas where we'll have different considerations, but for the most part we're looking to develop a suit that can do it all and do it all well!- BP

EDIT: My initials

sneakpeak17 karma

What do you think is the single most important part of the new spacesuits?

JSCNASA9 karma

There are many important parts of a new suit, but I think mobility is one of the more critical aspects if you are designing a planetary walking suit. Imagine trying to walk around while inside an inflated balloon…it wouldn’t be very easy! So, we use elements like bearings and bladder patterning to ensure that an astronaut can still move inside of a pressurized suit. At best, without good mobility, an astronaut would get a little tired, but at worst, they would not be able to perform a mission. So, mobility is very important! -imm

HawkeyeTransfer6 karma


JSCNASA6 karma

Absolutely. - GW

DigiMagic6 karma

In Europa Report movie, an astronaut's suit gets partially covered in hydrazine and rest of the crew refuses to let him back inside the ship. What would realistically happen in such situation, if it occurred during space shuttle missions or if it occurs nowadays on ISS? I find it hard to believe that there would be no protocols for that.

How redundant are the suits; if they are punctured at one place does the entire suit depressurize? Are there multiple oxygen tanks, maneuvering units and tanks with fuel for them, layers of glass on helmet, electrical accumulators for electronics; or due to weight and complexity there are no backups?

JSCNASA7 karma

I really like Europa Report!! I thought it actually made a good attempt at realism.

Astronauts have gotten toxic materials of their suits before. During some of the ammonia loop repairs on the space station, some astronauts got ammonia on their suit. The protocol is to stay in sunlight and "bake off" the toxic substance. Crew member can also press metal bars that were heated in sunlight against the substance on their suit to more quickly sublimate off the substance.

The suits can tolerate a small puncture for up to 30 minutes on emergency oxygen (a secondary tank), which is generally enough time to get an astronaut back into the airlock.

Astronauts also have an emergency jetpack called a SAFER in case they are separated from their vehicle for any reason.

Any manned spaceflight system is going to have redundancy and safety measures, and those are just a couple of examples ;) -BP

Kweeg105 karma

How do you test falling over and getting up?

JSCNASA18 karma

By falling over and getting up :)

DuckDuckDont4 karma

What did you study?

JSCNASA7 karma

Mechanical Engineering and Aerospace Engineering.

Skwidbox4 karma

As an aspiring engineer, what advice can you me? what should I study to get to where I want to be?

JSCNASA7 karma

Be curious! Study what excites you. You'll be most successful when you're doing something you're passionate about. - GW

Edit: added initials

kerimontreal4 karma

Do you see many different types of spacesuits being developed depending on which planet/planet's atmosphere the astronaut would be visiting?

JSCNASA4 karma

The most difficult question would probably be heat rejection from the suit. For example, a heat exchanger designed for deep space might not work as efficiently in the martian atmosphere. If the planetary atmosphere was closer to breathable, maybe the life support system would not need to carry a dedicated oxygen supply! -BP

Swagmnsterpussyeater4 karma

How did the scientists who developed the first space know it would be able to withstand outer space? Were they 100% sure it would work or pretty sure?

JSCNASA5 karma

The Air Force had experience with pressure suits in high-altitude aircraft and we also tested the suits in vacuum chambers. We knew the suits would work, but we didn't know how well they would work operational or ergonomically.

christ_mearcat3 karma

Do you foresee NASA utilizing the developing commercial space flight industry for any suit testing? Would that provide any benefits to the NBL?

JSCNASA3 karma

The commercial spaceflight companies are consulting with NASA on their designs. Currently these aren't EVA suits, but are instead launch and entry focused similar to the ACES (Advanced Crew Escape Suit). -BP

potus013 karma

Do you see any spacesuits incorporating robotic elements? (Robotic arm, exoskeleton, etc)

JSCNASA4 karma

We are working on some exoskeleton elements, I am currently working on a robotic assisted EVA glove based on technology from Robonaut. -BP

Cobbius3 karma

About 7 years ago I got the opportunity to try on some parts of the spacesuits at JSC. I remember the gloves making it incredibly difficult to handle anything small (like tools). What work has been done to improve dexterity for the astronauts?

JSCNASA6 karma

That’s awesome that you were able to come out here and try on some gloves! Pressurized gloves definitely reduce your mobility. The outer layer (thermal/micrometeoroid garment – TMG) is a big reducer of mobility, so we’re working on making new TMGs that are lighter and less restrictive. Another issue is glove fit (this was probably why your hands weren’t very comfortable in the gloves that you tried on). Everybody’s hand is different, so it’s difficult to make one glove that will fit everyone. So, new gloves will come with more adjustability (finger length, wrist diameter, etc). -IM

vanderburger3 karma

Hello! Firstly let me say what a fantastic topic for an ama! I'm excited to see what gets answered here! So I have two questions. First, how is the inside of the visor on a suit kept from fogging up from breath condensation? And what protective measures are there in a suit in case there is a puncture and the suit begins to depressurize? Thank you so much for everything you do!

JSCNASA4 karma

Good questions! 1) To prevent fogging, we put an anti-fog chemical coating on the helmet. We also make sure that the astronaut has sufficient gas flow over the face. This ensures that humidity doesn't build up too much in the helmet. 2) We have a backup oxygen system that kicks in if the suit gets a leak and drops pressure. Obviously, a big leak would be a bad day for the astronaut, but the suit can accomdate small leaks. -IM

only-talks-in-quotes3 karma

Can you hear me, major Tom?

ThatSexyAsian3 karma

Why do you have different types of spacesuits? Is there a specific purpose?

JSCNASA6 karma

Each suit has a specific purpose and oftentimes, those purposes don't overlap. For example, the current EVA space suit (the EMU) works great as an EVA suit, but it would not work as a launch/entry suit (it would not be comfortable). -IM

potus013 karma

What did you study in school/how did you get involved in this project?

JSCNASA7 karma

I studied Mechanical Engineering in undergrad and grad school. Ben and Ian studied Aerospace Engineering. All three of us participated in NASA's Co-op Program, now called the NASA Pathways Intern Program, which allowed us to take off semesters of school, move down to Houston, TX and work full-time as engineers at the Johnson Space Center while still in college. This allowed us to get our foot in the door at NASA, while also giving us the opportunity to try out different groups and projects. We all worked in either spacesuit development or spacewalk operations and loved it so much we decided to come back full-time! -GW

Trombone_Hero923 karma

Do the HVAC systems work throughout the whole suit, or just the helmet? I'd assume that it's just through the helmet, but I could see body perspiration as an issue for extended spacewalks if not addressed.

JSCNASA6 karma

Great question and point about body perspiration! The cooling and ventilation system works throughout the whole suit. Crewmembers wear a Liquid Cooling and Ventilation Garment, or LCVG, when inside the suit (think form-fitting long underwear with tubing and ducting running through it). The crewmember is cooled via cool water running through the tubing and the ducting pulls moist air (sweat) out from the crewmember's extremities - the air is then pulled into the Portable Life Support System (spacesuit's backpack) where it is conditioned: the moisture, CO2 and smells from inside the suit are removed and the air is finally cooled before returning to the astronaut. -GW