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