In many respects, the technology used by NASA is cutting edge and almost always the most advanced. However, this does not apply to the design of their space suits, which are based on the same ones used in the 1970s, when most astronauts were men.
Currently there are no suits specially designed for female astronauts and that has become a problem, especially now that the number of women who have reached space has reached 11 percent.
There is a specific fact that illustrates all this inconvenience in a good way. In March 2019, NASA had to delay the first all-female spacewalk due to a shortage of mid-size spacesuits. This issue arose after astronaut Anne McClain realized that she needed a smaller configuration than she had initially indicated.
While the suits have interchangeable parts, replacing that particular part could have meant a 12-hour delay, so mission managers decided to switch spacewalk astronauts to avoid further delays.
This incident led the government office to realize the need to change and adapt to the times.
Suits for everyone
Currently, NASA develops spacesuits for a wider variety of body sizes and proportions. At the same time, the agency is studying an experimental system that could help find the perfect fit: a body scanner that makes custom space suits.
For this they have turned to Bonnie Dunbar, a former astronaut and professor of aerospace engineering at the University of Texas. The project could use digital scanners to analyze an astronaut’s physique. Thus, the data obtained would allow the robotic manufacture of a personalized space suit, which could be key to the exploration of Mars and other destinations in space.
According to Dunbar, this system could help rapidly produce spacesuits that fit every crew member and in any gravitational environment. It would also help modify and repair the outfit if something unforeseen happens during the trip to space.
This project was selected by NASA and its Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) program, which funds early-stage work that “could change the future.” Thanks to this same program, the Ingenuity helicopter could be sent to Mars.
Thus, this innovative system of space suits could allow people of all shapes and sizes to be sent into space, which is one of the keys to future tourist trips beyond Earth.