Our Place in Space: The Z-Series Spacesuits

Hello, friends!  Welcome to Our Place in Space: A to Z!  For this year’s A to Z Challenge, I’ll be taking you on a partly imaginative and highly optimistic tour of humanity’s future in outer space.  If you don’t know what the A to Z Challenge is, click here to learn more.  In today’s post, Z is for…

THE Z-SERIES SPACESUITS

Oh my gosh, we actually did it.  This is the final post of this year’s A to Z Challenge!  All month long, we’ve been talking about humanity’s future in outer space.  We’ve talked about the space vehicles that will take us to other worlds, and we’ve talked about the kinds of habitats we could build on other worlds once we get there.  But there’s one thing I’m sure you’ve all been wondering about this whole time: what are people in the future going to wear?

Quite a few years ago, NASA introduced a prototype spacesuit for future missions to the Moon and Mars.  They called it the Z-1 spacesuit.  For some reason, the color scheme looked suspiciously like Buzz Lightyear.  A few years later, NASA introduced an updated design called the Z-2 spacesuit, which had glow-y parts that made it look like something out of Tron.

The Z-1 used mostly “soft” materials in its design, which gave astronauts increased mobility and flexibility; however, these soft materials did not provide much protection.  If you trip and fall on the Moon, you don’t want your spacesuit to rip or tear—not even a little bit!  So the Z-2 used a mix of soft and hard materials, in an attempt to strike a better balance between safety and mobility.

As I understand it, the really important thing is that the Z-series suits have a big, giant hatch in the back.  This hatch-back design makes it much easier to get in and out of your spacesuit, compared to more traditional spacesuit designs.  First, you open the hatch.  Next, you stick your arms in the arm tubes and your legs in the leg tubes.  Your head goes into the fishbowl part.  Then, just close the hatch behind you, and you’re good to go.  Easy!

So will astronauts in the future be wearing Z-3 or Z-4 spacesuits as they explore the Moon, Mars, and so on?  No.  No, they won’t.  I can’t find a source explicitly stating that development of the Z-series spacesuit was canceled, but I’m 99% sure development of the Z-series spacesuit was canceled.  At the very least, there hasn’t been any new news about it for years.  In the meantime, NASA has introduced other spacesuit designs, like the xEMU (eXploration Extravehicular Mobility Unit), intended for use on the Moon, Mars, etc.

It is worth nothing, though, that aspects of the Z-series designs—including the very convenient hatch in the back idea—have been incorporated into the xEMU.  Fans of the Z-1 and Z-2 suits can find some consolation in that.

Predicting the future is hard.  A lot of cool ideas have been proposed for space exploration, and quite a few of those ideas are now in active development at NASA, E.S.A., or elsewhere.  Some of the things we talked about this month may actually happen someday; others may be quietly canceled, like the Z-series spacesuits.  So whenever you see someone (like me) talking about what the future is going to be like, take what they say with a grain of salt (especially if they get hyper specific about what we’re going to do and by what date we’re going to do it).

But even if it turns out I got specific details about the future wrong, I still believe the general ideas expressed in these A to Z posts will be right.  Human civilization is going through a tough time right now, but will come out of this, we will learn from our mistakes, and we will build a better future for ourselves, both here on Earth and out there among the stars.

Want to Learn More?

Here’s an infographic from Space.com about the Z-1 spacesuit, and here’s their infographic about the Z-2.

Also, here’s a short video from NASA about the xEMU spacesuit, which borrows that super convenient hatchback design from the Z-series suits.

26 thoughts on “Our Place in Space: The Z-Series Spacesuits

  1. Congrats on the series!

    I remember seeing something where on the moon, due to lunar regolith getting into everything, the spacesuits would never actually be brought inside. Astronauts would just “dock” them to the habitat and use the hatch to move between the habitat and suit. I wonder if that was in the Z-series or the other one. (Although I can imagine all kind of practical problems with that kind of arrangement. If the seals in the docking aren’t just right…)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m pretty sure that was the Z-series. I don’t know if the xEMU does that too. I know the Apollo astronauts tracked a lot of moon dust into their lander, and it was kind of a problem. For one thing, it smelled awful when it reacted with oxygen. Next time people go to the Moon, they’ll have to find some way to avoid that issue.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I think I heard it smells like used gunpowder, or maybe burnt metal, which is also a description I’ve heard overall about how space smells. The description reminds me of the whiff I get when boarding or existing a plane, although I’m sure that’s a much weaker version.

        Liked by 1 person

    2. It seems as if dust will be a significant issue for the Moon and Mars, for suits and robots. How will those suits be maintained? Come to think of it, how do the Mars rovers manage to keep going? I’ve seen some reports of damage to the wheel treads, but I don’t recall any instrument malfunctioning because dust clogged or eroded its moving parts.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. I remember reading somewhere that the dust storms on Mars actually help with this, periodically blowing dust off the solar panels and other surfaces. It extended the life of both Spirit and Opportunity. Although the storms both giveth and taketh, since it was a global storm that finally took out Opportunity, starving it of sunlight too long for it to recover.

        Liked by 2 people

  2. Z series – quite interesting . Even Z had something to do with outerspace 🙂 thats good. I too wish that humans learn from mistakes and work towards better future – first on earth and next in space 🙂

    I thoroughly enjoyed ur posts. See ya around

    Congrats on completing a to z. From “The Pensive”

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Ever year I enjoy the heck out of your postings for the A to Z challenge, and the drawings especially. this year hasn’t been different and the hope… it was really a treat this year, thank you!

    I’d buy that shirt…

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Fabulous graphic to finish up an excellent series. Thanks so much James, I’ve really enjoyed your A2Z journey. It’s not only been really informative, but has also provided an hopeful focus.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Interesting choice of theme there for the A-Z! The image does look a lot like Buzz lightyear 😀 ! Congratulations on completing the challenge there as well! The future is so unpredictable, I wish we could keep getting updates on the really BIG things that happen, but then the BIG is basically an amalgamation of all the little everyday things, so anyway!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. It’s a shame, the Z suits looked like they’d be far more comfortable to use. Oh well, there’s always the next time. And congrats on getting to Z!

    Liked by 1 person

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