As NASA prepares to return astronauts to the moon, engineers in the agency are working on an exciting task - designing what will be NASA's first completely new spacesuit in more than 25 years. Tom Carrington's job is to make sure the new suit is designed with safety in mind.
What is your job, and how do you support spacewalks?
I'm a Safety, Reliability and Quality Assurance Manager. I work for the Constellation Extravehicular Activity Systems Project Office. We ensure that all safety requirements are in place and properly implemented across the new spacesuit system and other extravehicular activity, or EVA, tools and equipment. The new spacesuit system will be used on the Orion spacecraft and, eventually, on the surface of the moon.
Why is this element of spacewalk support important?
We are currently in the design phase for the Constellation spacesuit system. The design phase is the time we can get the biggest safety "bang for the buck." By designing increased safety and reliability into the suit itself, we do not have to use up the astronauts' valuable exploration time running elaborate procedures to keep things safe. It's kind of like the airbag system in a car. When you need them, they deploy by themselves, without your even having to think about it.
How did you get your current position?
After spending five years in International Space Station Safety and Mission Assurance, I was lucky enough to be selected to work in the EVA branch of the Quality and Flight Equipment Division.
Were you involved with NASA as a student in high school or college, and, if so, in what projects were you involved?
No, but I did get to perform collision avoidance for the shuttle while I was an orbital analyst for the U.S. Air Force, stationed at Cheyenne Mountain.
What are the challenges your team faces in working with this aspect of spacewalks?
The EVA community is very small and requires a tremendous degree of highly specialized expertise. This spacesuit system is the first totally new spacesuit to be developed by NASA in more than 25 years. So, we must work closely with our partners in the aerospace industry who have the incredible people, tools and expertise to successfully complete a challenge of this scope.
As NASA prepares to go back to the moon, what changes will be needed for this aspect of spacewalk support?
The new suit system must have a quantum increase not only in safety and reliability, but in ease of operation and serviceability of the suit by the crew. To achieve the exciting level of complex exploration tasks we are envisioning, we cannot afford to have the astronauts spending an inordinate amount of time servicing, checking out and otherwise "tweaking" the suit. We also need to develop an effective means of dealing with the corrosive effects of the lunar soil. This soil presents a host of new challenges as we prepare for the large number of spacewalks a six-month stay on the moon will entail.
What else would you want to tell people about your job or your experiences with spacewalk support?
During a spacewalk, we put our friends in a flexible, miniature spaceship and send them into the most hazardous environment known to humans. To accomplish this safely requires the total focus, expertise and dedication of the entire EVA team. It is truly an honor and privilege to be a part of this incredible team.
NASA's Johnson Space Center
NASA's Office of Safety and Mission Assurance →
David Hitt and Heather R. Smith/NASA Educational Technology Services