With all the focus on developing everything from the space ships to the rockets that will eventually get us to Mars, it seems another piece of the puzzle has fallen by the wayside.
The Verge reports a new audit of NASA that shows the space agency’s supply of space suits is reaching critical conditions, and current development programs will be cutting it extremely tight (if they make it at all) to actually be fully tested and usable before NASA kicks off plans for a new space station in lunar orbit, and eventual trips to Mars.
NASA started with 18 space suits that could work around the ISS, but time and degradation have dropped that number to 11 functioning suits. But of those 11, only 4 are actually on the station at all. The rest are kept on the ground and used for testing. All those suits are already well past their prime, and if the life of the ISS is extended again, those functioning suits could start falling apart even more. But those suits probably wouldn’t really be suitable for a new lunar mission, or Mars mission anyway. Instead, NASA is developing new suits that are specifically designed for the conditions they’ll find in those environments (radiation levels, gravity, temperature, etc.).
But that’s still only part of the problem. NASA has spent around $200 million on space suit development over the past decade, but we’re still years away from having a functional new space suit. When they eventually do finish a new suit, scientists had planned to test it out at the ISS — which could be decommissioned before the new suits are actually complete. If that happens, NASA will be hard pressed to find a suitable way to actually test these suits out. You know, before actually sending humans out in them around the moon (or Mars) and hoping for the best.
With NASA also hoping to test out the Space Launch System (the rocket that will take us to Mars) with a manned mission around 2021, the space agency will be hard pressed to actually have suits finished in time for the astronauts on board.
Which is to say, you know. Space is hard.
(Via The Verge)