NASA and the Houston-based aerospace company Axiom Space gave CBS News an early look at the spacesuit that astronauts will wear on the Artemis III mission — the first lunar landing of the NASA program returning astronauts to the moon. The suit was officially unveiled at an event in Houston on Wednesday.
Compared to the bulky and inflexible Apollo suits that caused astronauts to fall while walking on the moon, the new suits are designed to be more mobile, said Russell Ralston, EVA deputy program manager at Axiom Space.
“This suit will be much easier to walk in or to do a lot of the same tasks that they did back in Apollo, and more, but to do it in a little bit easier way,” Ralston said.
The redesign of the spacesuit covers everything from top to bottom. The new helmet offers improved visibility, and the boots are specially designed for moonwalking, complete with thermal insulation suitable for the moon’s south pole.
To prepare the suit for the 2025 landing, Axiom Space and NASA will fine-tune and evaluate the suit through testing at the Johnson Space Center’s Neutral Buoyancy Lab in Houston, where part of a 40-foot-deep pool has been transformed into a lunar landscape.
“It’s going to give us a really great indication of how mobile the suit is and what kind of fatigue, if anything, the crewmembers are going to feel after working for six or seven hours,” said Lara Kearney, who oversees the program at NASA and ensures that Axiom is meeting requirements.
Ralston said the final suits are close to the final version with one significant difference: the color. The outer layer will be white and made of Mylar and Kevlar for the mission, which will take astronauts to a part of the moon where craters are home to some of the coldest temperatures in the solar system.
“Going into a permanently shaded region on the moon is something that’s never been done before, by anything,” Ralston said.
NASA outsourced the project to Axiom after 15 years of developing its own next-generation moon suit. The company adapted over half of NASA’s original design.
According to Peggy Whitson, the director of human spaceflight at Axiom and a former NASA astronaut who has spent more time in space than any other American, the spacesuit is the first to be specifically designed to fit a woman.
The 21st-century spacesuit is crafted using advanced technology, such as laser cutters that precisely slice various fabrics and 3-D printers that create components, resulting in cost and time savings. However, certain components are still assembled using traditional sewing machines.
In space, to dress for success is a matter of survival.
“I go to church with astronauts. We see them when we’re getting groceries. We know their kids,” said Ralston. “The product you’re making, their life is going to depend on that. So, it’s something we take extremely seriously.”