NASA engineer on the biggest challenge in building a spacesuit for Mars

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Jul 29, 2015, 7:52 PM EDT (Updated)

Though most of the attention is on the potential ships, rockets and habitats needed to get us to Mars, NASA engineer Amy Ross is focused on a different part of the equation: namely, what we’ll wear when we get there.

Ross had a lengthy chat with io9 about how space suits have changed, and the different options for what we’ll use once we finally hurl humans all the way out to the Red Planet (we’re relatively partial to MIT Professor Dava Newman’s sci-fi styled design). Though we obviously tend to focus on the aesthetics, Ross said the biggest challenge facing the design team is figuring out a suit that is practical for the harsh terrain and fits the needs of the separate user.

Basically: This is what they’ll be wearing to work everyday, so it better be functional and comfortable. Check out an excerpt from the interview below:

“One thing we’re going to have to make sure is they’re a lot more customized for the individual. Say you’re going to Mars for 500 days. Your spacesuit is now your work coveralls. My Gramps was a farmer, he had coveralls he put on every day and that was his work uniform. He had them just how we wanted them, with his tools in all the right spots and it helped him do his job.

That’s kind of how I think about a suit for a Mars mission. You’re going to want to make sure it’s just right for the crew member. You’re going to customize it in certain ways and you’re also going to help them be a lot more independent in doing their jobs. We’re trying to be creative and really push the tech to incorporate information technology in the spacesuits.

Like if it has a display, you’re going to be able to interact with that hands-free, ideally. We’re not quite sure how that’s going to work yet, but, as they’re doing their job, they could keep track of their own performance, health, the timeline, the to-do list. If something pops up and they need to fix it, they can pull up the schematics. And we also want to pay attention—because it is something like a tool, like a work uniform—so the word we use a lot is comfort. But what that really means is lack of injury-causing issues.”

For those interested in the future of space-duds, the full interview is well worth a read.

(Via io9)