If you’re fascinated by the idea of humans traveling through space and curious about how that all works, you’ve come to the right place.
“Houston We Have a Podcast” is the official podcast of the NASA Johnson Space Center from Houston, Texas, home for NASA’s astronauts and Mission Control Center. Listen to the brightest minds of America’s space agency – astronauts, engineers, scientists and program leaders – discuss exciting topics in engineering, science and technology, sharing their personal stories and expertise on every aspect of human spaceflight. Learn more about how the work being done will help send humans forward to the Moon and on to Mars in the Artemis program.
For Episode 120, Chris Hansen, manager of the Extravehicular Activity Office, talks about the next generation of spacesuits that will be used during the Artemis Program. Hansen discusses the features, development, and testing of the two suits, and he previews upcoming milestones before these new suits are worn by the next astronauts on the Moon. This episode was recorded on October 30th, 2019.
Gary Jordan (Host): Houston, We Have a Podcast. Welcome to the official podcast of the NASA Johnson Space Center Episode 120, “Artemis Spacesuits.” I’m Gary Jordan. I’ll be your host today. On this podcast we bring in the experts, scientists, engineers, astronauts, all to let you know what’s going on in the world of human spaceflight. So on October 15th, 2019 NASA unveiled the next generation of spacesuits that will take humans to the Moon with NASA’s Artemis Program. I say spacesuits plural because there are two. One for getting to the Moon and back, and one for exploring the surface of the Moon. The Orion Crew Survival suit does exactly what it sounds like: helps the crew survive in Orion, the deep-space capsule that will transport the crew to and from the Moon. But there are many layers to that and a lot of interesting technologies added to the spacesuit that you might not have thought about. Then there’s the xEMU, [Exploration extravehicular mobility unit] that will be used on the Moon’s surface. For those familiar with human spaceflight or those who have listened to our “Spacesuits” episode, Episode 16, hint, hint, you might recognize the extravehicular mobility unit in there, the EMU. This is the suit used for spacewalks on the space station today. The X in front is for Exploration. Sure, the name looks a little bit the same, but there are a lot of differences that makes this suit the right one for the Moon. So here to go into great detail about each of these suits and what we have to look forward to is Chris Hansen. Chris is the manager of the Extravehicular Activity Office here at the Johnson Space Center. And he’s here with us to go over the intricate details of the Orion Crew Survival Suit, the OCSS, and the xEMU, some of the development and testing and some of the milestones to look forward to until we actually see these suits in action both for testing and for when they’re donned to take the first steps on the Moon since 1972. So here we go. Artemis Generation Spacesuits with Chris Hansen. Enjoy.
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Host: Chris Hansen, thanks so much for coming on the podcast today.
Chris Hansen: Sure. Thanks for having me.
Host: Big event we had recently at headquarters. The administrator brought out — it was Kris Davis and Dustin Gohmert. Am I saying that right?
Chris Hansen: Yeah, Dustin.
Host: Awesome event. They were right in the suits, they were moving around. It looked really cool. Then you had a Q and A with the administrator. Kate Rubins was there and everything. How was that? How was the whole event?
Chris Hansen: Yeah, so it was really exciting. For me it’s the first time I’ve really spent any kind of close time with the administrator. So that was really exciting. He’s a very interesting guy. He’s like a storm rolling into the room and he’s very excited about what we do. He’s very supportive of what we do. For those of you that ever have been lucky enough to meet Kate Rubins, she’s also really, really cool. She’s one of the nicest and smartest people I’ve ever met. And so it was really fun to be able to do that event with those two particularly.
Chris Hansen: Talking about spacesuits.
Host: And it was great because we’re talking about the next generation of suits. I know a lot of us, you know, the EMU we’ve had a podcast about it before. This is the spacesuit that’s on the International Space Station right now. But thinking about that next generation, you know, you’re looking at it and it feels real.
Chris Hansen: Yeah.
Host: It’s like, “Wow, that’s going to be the suit we’re going to be seeing on the surface of the Moon.” It’s pretty cool.
Chris Hansen: Yeah.
Host: So I wanted to go into all the details with you today.
Chris Hansen: Yeah, let’s do it.
Host: This’ll be great. You are the manager of the Extravehicular Activity Office, mostly over the xEMU, right, one of the ones we’re going to be talking about today.
Chris Hansen: Well, so not mostly. So actually my responsibility is for EVA activities across the entire agency.
Host: I see.
Chris Hansen: So everything EVA, and that includes the current EVA work we do on space station with the EMU. So my office is responsible for all of that, including the exploration work that we do with the xEMU and the XEVA systems that we’ll be talking about today.
Host: OK. Well let’s start with the EVA part of things.
Chris Hansen: Yeah.
Host: I think that’s where your expertise is.
Chris Hansen: Yeah.
Host: We’re talking about the xEMU. This is the Exploration Extravehicular Mobility Unit.
Chris Hansen: Yeah, we love acronyms.
Host: Acronyms, man. Yeah.
Chris Hansen: We really love it.
Host: So xEMU, what are the main differences? If you had to compare the EMU that we know today on the space station to this xEMU, what are the main differences that you would highlight?
Chris Hansen: Yeah, so let me start with a little bit of — we’ve been doing EVAs for 50 years.
Chris Hansen: All the way back from Gemini through the Apollo program. You saw us hopping around on the Moon. We learned so much from that and then we graduated into the Space Shuttle program. So the EMU that we use today was actually developed in the late ’70’s, early ’80’s and hasn’t been modified significantly for use on the International Space Station. So the suit you see today is fundamentally the same suite we used back in the late ’70’s, early ’80’s. So we’ve learned a lot using that suit and so today we’ve tried to take everything we’ve learned about the old suit and upgraded it, improved it, tried to make it better for the xEMU. So in the xEMU a lot of those lessons learned have been rolled and incorporated. If we start with the part that you can see, so Kris was out walking around and you got to see one of the main features of what we call the pressure garment system. So the pressure garment system for a suit is the part that you can see. On the EMU it’s the white part, it’s the arms, the legs, the body, the helmet, all of that is what we call the pressure garment. The other part of that system is the portable life support system which is in the backpack. There’s a lot of things in the backpack. It’s a backpack, it’s a very high-tech system. There’s a lot of differences between that and the current EMU and I’ll talk about it. Let me start with the part you can see.
Chris Hansen: So Kris was walking around on the stage and that’s one of the important differences. What we want when we go back to the Moon this time and on to Mars is to actually do exploration. And to do that we have to allow our astronauts to work like geologists. Fundamentally a lot of the science we’ll be doing early on the Moon is geology. And if you’ve ever hung around with a geologist, they don’t like taking paths. They like getting off paths. They like climbing over rocks, they like interacting with the environment around them to learn. And so we’ve got to have a suit that allows them to do that. The original Apollo suits, it was very difficult for the crew to bend their knees, to bend down, to lunge, to grab things. They practically had to fall over to pick up a rock and kind of do a pushup to get back up. And so we want a suit that enables them to move. And so what you saw in the xEMU was a suit that’s got lower torso mobility. You can actually bend your knees and bend your legs and bend down. You saw even in 1-G which is, you know, six times more gravity than we’ll have on the surface of the Moon, Kris was able to bend down, pick up a rock on the stage, hand it to the administrator. In addition to that, so that’s lower body mobility, we’ve learned with the current suit that upper body mobility is almost just as important. The crew needs to be able to move their arms, particularly our smaller crew members in this suit. It’s got to be fitted to them in such a way that it allows them to move so that the joints line up with the joints of your body so that it acts really much more like your body. So the xEMU has some very important features in the shoulders that allow you to move. The bearings of the shoulders, we call them the scye bearings, s-[c]-y-e, the scye bearings, are much closer into the body so it aligns much better with our smaller crew members and allows them to move much more naturally. Kris did some demonstrations where she could actually reach all the way across her body to grab something. In the current EMU, our smaller crew members have a lot of difficulty doing that. It’s a very difficult reach that controls up around their head where the lights are, where the cameras are. It’s much more difficult. So this suit is changing a lot of that in the pressure garment system.
Chris Hansen: In addition, what you didn’t see — some problems we’ll have to tackle is the environment’s very different on the surface of the Moon than it is in the space station. One of those is microgravity on the space station and one-sixth gravity on the surface of the Moon. So we have to deal with that. In addition, there’s a lot of dust. We learned in Apollo, we brought a lot of that dust back with us. That dust is very sharp. It’s very corrosive. It gets into our equipment and gets into the materials and the bearings, and so this suit has to protect itself from all of those environments. So that’s from the pressure garment. The helmet was different. The helmet is hemispherical and it allows the crew members inside that suit the ability to look down and see their feet, to look up and see the sky, look right and left and have a much wider range of vision in this suit from the pressure garment side. Now in the —
Host: Go ahead. Well, what I’m hearing now is thinking about the spacesuit we have on the space station, if you look at them actually doing spacewalks, they’re not really using their feet too much. They’re using mostly arms. They need that mobility. But what I’m hearing now is the xEMU is all about mobility. It’s about mobility. It’s about the flexibility of the legs. It’s about the mobility of your arms. It’s about that reach. You’re getting all of those little extra things that are going to help you in exploring the surface of the Moon.
Chris Hansen: Exactly right. That’s one of the major differences in terms of the pressure garment system. Now the life support system is also very different. Now the EMU is a beautiful machine. It has worked really well for us. But there are some features in that suit that we definitely want to change. One of those is we want to make it safer. We want it to have fewer failure modes. A lot of you are familiar with the EVA 23 incident where we had water in the helmet. Some of that is because of the complexities of that design, the water and air loops are in kind of close contact. So we wanted to separate those loops so the loops are completely separate. In addition, if you ever watch EVAs, one of the main limitations for how long we can go is how much CO2 absorption capability — the suit has to absorb CO2 as the crew members work and build up that CO2 in the system. Every system we have today, lithium hydroxide, the metox cans that we use today all have a limited capacity. Once that system is full of carbon dioxide, you’re finished. You have to come back inside. So it’s a limit for how long you can stay outside. The new system we’ve built is called a swing bed. That system has been tested out on the space station. Orion uses the system and it continuously scrubs CO2. So it has two absorption beds. One of those beds is active. It’s actively absorbing CO2. When it gets full, we switch the system over to the other bed and we let it absorb CO2. And while it’s absorbing CO2, that first bed is exposed to vacuum. And so all that CO2 is burned off into the environment and it empties the case as you were. And then when it’s full, then we just switch back and forth. So we have a continuous ability to get rid of CO2 out of the system. So it will no longer be a consumable or limitation for us. We can go for as long as we have battery power. It will continue to desorb CO2. So that’s a big difference from the system we use today.
Host: That’s huge. These are — I can’t wait to go into the details.
Chris Hansen: Yeah.
Host: I do want to switch over to the other suit.
Chris Hansen: Sure.
Host: Because I really wanted to do like a high level of what is this suit?
Chris Hansen: Yeah, absolutely.
Host: And it sounds like it’s this — if you want it to go outside of a habitat or your lander, whatever and explore the Moon, this thing is great because of these reasons.
Chris Hansen: Yep.
Host: And that was perfectly it. Now this Orion Crew Survival Suit, this was the other one that they rolled out.
Chris Hansen: Yeah.
Host: It looks a little bit different.
Chris Hansen: Yeah.
Host: Now what purpose does this one serve?
Chris Hansen: So there’s something similar between both of them. Fundamentally they have the same job. They have to keep a human alive in a very extreme environment. But the environments they’re designed to work in are significantly different. The Orion Crew Survival System, we call it OCSS, that’s the acronym, OCSS, is designed to keep the astronauts safe inside the Orion vehicle. They wear it during launch and entry and reentry. And it’s designed to protect them from potential failures of that system. If they have a depressurization event, the suit can actually hold pressure and will keep them alive. That suit is generally hooked with an umbilical to the Orion’s life support system. So it will feed them, it will give them oxygen. They have portable oxygen tanks on them. If the crew members need to leave the vehicle, say for instance after they’ve landed in the water and they need to get out — if there’s smoke in the air, if there’s a contamination that will allow them time to get out of the vehicle. The suit will protect them from fire. The suit is also there — it’s integrated very carefully with the seat to protect the crew members during landing. If there’s a crash, there’s a high load event, the suit and the seat actually protect the astronauts physically. Kind of like being in a race car where the seatbelt holds them in, it keeps them safe, allows them to survive that and then to get out of the vehicle if they need to. Again, it’s also got a lot of requirements — the Orion’s designed to leave low Earth orbit. It’s designed to go to the Moon. So if you’re a long ways away from home and you have a vehicle that’s now depressurized, this suit will keep them alive. So it’s designed to keep them alive for days inside this suit. Enough for them to get back home and get back on the ground. So the suit does a lot of very complicated requirements. One of the big differences is it doesn’t have its own portable life support system. It uses the Orion’s life support systems to keep those crew members alive. So that’s one of the things that differentiates it between the xEMU that we were just talking about. In addition, it lives in a less extreme thermal environment. When we go to the surface of the Moon it can be as hot as 250 degrees, as cold as negative 250 degrees depending on where we’re at. And the South Pole’s got a wide range of thermal environments that it has to deal with. The Orion suit doesn’t have to deal with those extremes in thermal, so it’s less complicated in that sense. The color — you notice the colors very different. The color is bright orange.
Chris Hansen: And the reason it’s bright orange is because the Orion is a water landing vehicle. So there’s a possibility the crew may need to get out of that vehicle and be in the water. It’s got a life preserver. But we also want to make it easier for search and rescue crews to find the astronauts. So the bright orange color makes that easier. So it’s all really about crew safety and protecting the crew in all of these contingency events they might see in the spacecraft.
Host: There you go. So those are the primary uses and they were both rolled out. They’re awesome looking suits too.
Chris Hansen: Yeah.
Host: One of them is to be used on the Moon, that xEMU, and the other one is to be used in transit to and from.
Chris Hansen: To and from.
Host: To and from the Moon. Keep the guys and girls — we’re talking about the first woman and the next man on the surface of the Moon.
Chris Hansen: Absolutely.
Host: We’ve got to make sure you say that.
Chris Hansen: Absolutely.
Host: But we’re talking about these critical components of the entire mission. Let’s go into the weeds.
Chris Hansen: Yeah, let’s do it.
Host: This is one of my favorite things to do. So the xEMU, the one that’s going to be on the surface of the Moon, let’s start head-to-toe. If you’re looking at the different features of this, you’re looking at the logic of the design, starting with the helmet — you know, I know if you’re looking at Apollo 17, that famous shot of Dr. Schmidt on the surface of the Moon with the visors on the side. You know what I’m talking about?
Chris Hansen: Yeah, yeah.
Host: And the Moon in the background. Now this one looks a little bit different. What’s the logic of the design of the helmet?
Chris Hansen: Yeah. So let me start with the helmet. Again, we talked about the shape of the helmet gives them a much wider range of vision.
Chris Hansen: We also have those same sun shades.
Chris Hansen: The sun is very, very bright. Now the plan is to go to the South Pole and a crater, so we’re going to have to deal also with being in a very dark location which we didn’t have to deal with generally during the Apollo program. We’re going to be down potentially in a crater, so we have — we’ll have lights onboard. We will this time — one of my goals is when we go back to the Moon this time I want the whole world to go with us. I want high-definition cameras. I want virtual reality systems. I want everybody on the planet to be able to be on the shoulder of that astronaut when we walk on the Moon next time so that we take the whole world with us. So we will have much higher definition cameras with us. We’ll have high-speed communication systems so that is something that will be very different. The thermal protection garment, we talked about it. There was a question — I know the suit that we brought out for the D.C. event had kind of a cool red, white and blue pattern.
Chris Hansen: That’s mostly to help — it mostly gives the engineers — they can kind of have some fun with what it looks like from a design standpoint. We haven’t designed the thermal protection garment. Because of the thermal environment it’s very likely going to be white.
Host: Oh, OK.
Chris Hansen: Which is a little less interesting. So it gives our engineers a little bit of kind of fun to play with.
Chris Hansen: Kind of a nice design. But ultimately the thermal protection garment will have to protect us from the thermal extremes. There are potential micrometeoroid impacts on the surface from asteroids hitting the Moon that we have to protect the crew members from. The radiation environment is different so we have to do a little bit of protection from the radiation. We talked about the life support system. The other thing that we want is we want to make sure we have as much time to do EVAs as we can. So we actually have much higher-pressure oxygen tanks inside the system which allows us to squeeze more oxygen into that life support system so we can do longer EVAs. Ultimately what would be nice is that the limitation in the system is the person in the suit and not the suit themselves. So I want a suit that will do whatever a human being can possibly do on the surface of the Moon and let them go be scientists and not have to worry so much about the equipment. It will do whatever they need it to do.
Host: Yeah. So as long as they want to be out, the suit will carry them for as long as they need.
Chris Hansen: Yeah, that’s the goal for sure.
Host: Yeah. I saw something about — you’re talking about the oxygen tanks.
Chris Hansen: Yeah.
Host: I saw something about rechargeable technologies where you’re talking about being out there for longer lengths of time. We already talked a little bit about the carbon dioxide scrubbing which is huge. And that is — you’re right — a limitation of how long you can be out there. Now what about this charging technology?
Chris Hansen: So that’s actually not new in the sense that even the current EMU, we do multiple — you’ve seen lately we’ve been doing EVAs on the space station. So we recharge those oxygen tanks on the current EMU. The advantage of this one is that the pressure tanks are much higher.
Host: I see.
Chris Hansen: So they charge up to 3,000 pounds per square inch which gives us a lot more capability. So we’ll be able to recharge the oxygen tanks between EVAs. We do that today on the current EMU just at lower pressures. So we don’t get — we can’t squeeze as much oxygen into the system. But we’ll have to put more oxygen into the system. We’ll have to recharge the batteries. Everybody’s used to recharging the batteries in their toys when they play with them. You’ve got to do the same thing on the suits. We have lithium ion batteries in the system so we’ll have to recharge those when we get back in. And the system uses water for cooling. So the cooling system — so we’ll have to recharge water when we bring those suits back inside in the lander when we’re doing exploration on the Moon. That’s very similar to what we do on the space station today. We recharge the suits with water. It uses a different cooling technology, the EMU versus the xEMU. The EMU uses a technology called sublimation. We actually create ice out of that water. As that ice hits vacuum, it sublimates off, gets very cold. It cools the water that we run behind it and that water then cools the astronauts inside the suits. The new suit uses a different technology called the suit water membrane evaporator. So rather than freezing water, we’re actually evaporating water in a much more controlled way. The advantage of that system is it’s much less sensitive to contamination in the water. We tested that. That’s actually a system that NASA designed. We developed that here at NASA Johnson Space Center. We built it, we’ve been testing it. The sublimation system is very sensitive to water quality. We’ve had some issues with contaminating onboard the space station. This system is much less sensitive to contamination.
Host: I see. So this goes back to a lot of those themes about — and this was even true when you were talking about some of the life support systems. You have that redundancies, those redundancies, right? You’re talking about the safety of the crew at this point, right?
Chris Hansen: Yes.
Host: The safety of the system, but ultimately the safety of the crew.
Chris Hansen: Yeah.
Host: You know, a lot of technology, a lot of the improvements you’re talking about go into making sure this thing is going to be reliable when we pull it out.
Chris Hansen: Yeah. The other thing that we’ve done — there’s a couple other things we’ve done with this system. We’ve put in as many redundant systems as we can. Whereas the current EMU has a single pump, a single fan, all driven off of a single motor, if that system goes down, the EVAs finished. We have to bring the crew back inside. This system, we have redundant pumps. We have redundant fans. We have a redundant thermal control system. So we’re trying to put in as much reliability as we can. Again, to allow the mission to keep going but also to obviously to protect the safety of the crew when they’re out there. So the second thing that we’ve done, if you’ve seen lately we’ve had the crew do a lot of operations on this suit on the current EMU on board the space station. We’ve had them pull out fan pump separators which is kind of the very complicated heart of the EMUs life support system. And it was never meant to be operated on in space. It’s difficult for our technicians to do it on the ground. It’s even harder for the astronauts to do in space. We’ve had to teach them how to do it. We’ve had to be able to operate on the spacesuit. So this suit was designed with that in mind. All of the components on the suit are designed to be easily taken out and removed. One, to allow the crew members to operate so we don’t have to bring those suits down to the ground necessarily to fix them. But in addition, technology changes quickly. And so we want to be able to take out components that are designed in the system and put in a new component, a different design into that, like a motherboard on a computer, PC. You plug in new designs as the latest and greatest chip comes out. We want our components to be upgradable, to change as we learn, as we get smarter, as this exploration program continues. We want to be able to upgrade the system as we go without having to design and develop a whole new suit and bring those suits back to the ground to change them out.
Host: Yeah, see that’s huge. Because we’re talking about one of the things for this Artemis mission, the idea is sustainability. So we’re going to stay. So naturally that means years down the road technology’s going to change. You don’t want to be stuck with old suits. Having that sort of flexibility is awesome.
Chris Hansen: Exactly.
Host: We started talking about some of the different systems. We talked about portable life support systems. I know there’s carbon dioxide scrubbing is actually being tested on the space station right now, isn’t it?
Chris Hansen: Yep, absolutely.
Host: So how’s it performing?
Chris Hansen: Yeah, so the swing bed that we have onboard station today has been working great. We flew a smaller payload that tested that out a few years ago. We had the typical problems with new technology. It took us a little while to get it working. But once we got it up and running, it worked fabulously. And so you know, I can’t say enough about the space station and the role that it’s played in allowing us to test these technologies in the real environment. We’ve learned so much, especially in the life support arena. The life support systems onboard space station are very complex and they’ve really allowed us to learn and grow and then it’s expanded into things like spacesuits. Because a lot of our life support systems on the spacesuits are very similar to the life support systems the vehicles need, the space station and Orion. But in our case we have to make them smaller. But the technology is very similar and so those systems have been tested on station for a while and they’ve been working great.
Host: Yeah. They really are.
Chris Hansen: Yeah.
Host: We talked about the reliability of these, you know. Like you said, we’ve taken a lot from stuff that we know works on the space station and we’ve learned so much. Going down, I think, you know, controlling the life support systems — I know one of the things on the extravehicular mobility unit on station is they have these control dials right at the front of their chest that help them to — you talked about the cooling. Help them to cool off or heat up depending on where they are in the sun. Those look a little bit different on the xEMU, right?
Chris Hansen: Yeah. So what you’re describing is what we call the display and control module. It’s the control box on the front of the suit. Now that is how the crew interacts with the suit. There are switches on it and there are valves in there. There’s a temperature control valve that affects how much cooling water is going to their cooling system to adjust the comfort levels of the crews inside. There are switches to turn on the pumps and fans and power and those things. So we still need the crew to be able to interact with the suit. However, one of the problems with that display and control module on the current EMU is how big it is. And it limited how small we could make the hard upper torso that that thing’s attached to, sort of the chest part of the spacesuit. It limited how small we can make that, which then limited how easily smaller crew members could use them. You know, we’ve had discussions lately about our female astronauts and struggling in even our small suit. This will help us tremendously because we’ve made that system significantly smaller. It’s allowed us to move the bearings inside farther. In addition, we started with — when we designed the xEMU we started on the small side because the small one is the hardest one to integrate all these controls to. So we knew that it’s easy to scale up. It’s a lot harder to scale down. So we started with the small one. That display and control unit will give the crew messages about the suit status. It gives them switches that turn the systems on and off. And we’re still evaluating today what kind of information we want the crew members to have. We have this great project that we do with university students called “Suits” where we’re asking them to help us design the information system. We all love Iron Man. We’re a big fan of Iron Man. A lot of things about Iron Man are fantasy. But one of the things that’s not really fantasy is the way that in the movie he gets information from the suit.
Host: Yeah, like that heads-up display.
Chris Hansen: Heads-up display.
Chris Hansen: The reality is when you look at that, that would be overwhelming probably for the average person. And so we’re trying to study what kind of information do our astronauts want while they’re doing an EVA. How do we want the suit to interact with them? Do we want them to be able to talk to the suit? Do we want the suit to talk back? Do we want gauges, dials, those kinds of things? So that’s a lot of what we’re studying now that will get integrated into the suit as we move forward.
Host: Oh man, Iron Man on the Moon. This is cool.
Chris Hansen: Yeah.
Host: The suit itself, we talked about — I know one of the points during the presentation was about the pressure of the suit. Now I think the spacesuits on station are 4.3 PSI. Do I have that right?
Chris Hansen: Yeah. Yeah.
Host: This one is variable, right?
Chris Hansen: Yep, exactly.
Host: So what does that mean?
Chris Hansen: So one of the — so you have to understand a little bit how the spacesuits work. If we ran the spacesuits at atmospheric pressure, 14.7 PSI, you’d never be able to move in them. The pressure, it’s like being in a giant balloon. It would be so stiff, you’d never get any work done. So we have to lower the pressure in the suits enough to make the suits usable. The problem is if you lower the pressure of the suit down to 4 PSI and you just have regular breathing air in it, you would be unconscious very quickly. It would be very dangerous. The human body can’t live in that condition. You can however live at that pressure if you’re breathing pure oxygen. And so we fill those suits with pure oxygen. The downside with that is something called decompression sickness or the bends. If you’re in a pure oxygen environment, you naturally have nitrogen in your blood. If you drop the pressure that low, just like scuba divers coming up too fast, the pressure is lowering too quickly. The nitrogen that’s in your blood can come out of solution and make little bubbles. They get inside your systems and cause you a lot of problems. So the suit itself runs at low pressure but we have to run at pure oxygen at 4.2 PSI. Because of that, the crew members in the suit actually have to pre-breathe. So for several hours before the EVAs happen we put them on oxygen masks. They breathe pure oxygen to purge all of that nitrogen out of their body. It takes hours to do that. And ultimately we would like to not have to spend hours with the crew on pure oxygen before we go out and do spacewalks. One of the ways around that is by raising the pressure. If you can raise the pressure of the suit to something higher like 8 PSI, then the amount of time you need to spend pre-breathing on pure oxygen goes down dramatically. The problem is running a suit at 8 PSI is a little more complicated. It’s stiffer, again. It’s also — in order to change the pressure you need something called an oxygen regulator. And there just really aren’t oxygen regulators that are designed to change pressure. Until this project came on. So we worked with a company called Cobham and actually developed a very high-tech oxygen regulator that can actually change pressures. And so that’s one of the features of the suit, is we can actually start the astronauts at a much higher pressure, get them out the door to go start exploring and then that regulator can actually lower pressure as they go. So that as the EVA goes on, the pressure gets lower, it gets a little easier to use the suits. But we didn’t have to take all that time up front pre-breathing. So that technology allows us to be much more flexible as we plan EVAs.
Host: That is great. You get out the door faster but you can still have that extra mobility that you need to eventually bend over and pick up a rock.
Chris Hansen: Exactly.
Host: Perfect. Is the pre-breathing — so it sounds like it’s going to be shorter, but will the process of that be essentially the same? You’re going to have to pre-breathe? You’re going to have to don your suit? Because even now with spacewalks on the space station, it does take a while to get ready.
Chris Hansen: Yeah.
Host: So that will look the same on the lunar lander?
Chris Hansen: Fundamentally. But some of it’s going to depend on how that lander gets designed. As you know, the agency has asked the commercial industry to propose lander designs and those landers have lots of flexibility in terms of how they meet that. You could theoretically run those landers with pure oxygen like we did back in the Apollo program. You could have the crew members breathe pure oxygen the way we do today. Again, because that time is less with the way the suit works, it gives you a lot more flexibility as to how you deal with that. But the lander companies that are developing the landers can kind of choose and figure out how to solve that problem and whatever makes most sense for their architecture. We try to give them as much flexibility by lowering the amount of time we need to pre-breathe. But then we’ll see what — we’re interested. We’ll see what designs they come up with, that they bring to NASA.
Host: Yeah, and then make it work.
Chris Hansen: Yeah.
Host: But you have this flexibility.
Chris Hansen: Yeah.
Host: This is awesome.
Chris Hansen: Yeah.
Host: I know I remember one part of the presentation too was something to look at was the differences with working and operating on the surface of the Moon. One of them was walking on the surface and possibly the thermal concerns on the boots.
Chris Hansen: Yeah.
Host: That was something you had to consider. Because I don’t know if there’s differences of temperature there.
Chris Hansen: Yeah. Obviously what we’re walking on, the surface temperatures can vary in that wide range. So it’s just something you have to deal with. There are materials available that can handle those kinds of temperatures. But like with every part of the suit we just have to look at what is the environment that we’re going to be in? How well do we understand it? And then designing systems that can deal with it. I don’t think from a materials standpoint the boots will be that tricky. I think we’ll figure that out. One of the things we want though is we want them actually walking rather than hopping. So the shoes are probably going to have to be designed, the boots will have to be designed to be a little more rugged than what we had during Apollo. Because we want them again to be geologists. We want them to walk around.
Host: Yeah. Are there similar things for the gloves as well? Because now you’re dealing with rocks that may or may not be sharp.
Chris Hansen: Yeah, we’ll have to talk about that. One of the things is on the International Space Station, you mentioned it before, your legs aren’t that helpful. And so almost all of the work you’re doing is with your hands. And so we’ve designed what we call the phase six gloves that we use for the EMU. We’ve designed those to allow us to do very long, very hand-intensive EVAs on the International Space Station. There are some things we can improve on them that we’re looking at, but they’re pretty good. And so on the surface of the Moon — on the surface of the Moon I don’t think the effort for the geology work we’re going to be doing is going to challenge the gloves more than the space station does in terms of the physical efforts.
Chris Hansen: Now obviously we’re going to have to deal with rocks and abrasion and some things we’ll see. And so the outer layer is likely going to have to be toughened up. So we’re looking at that. But fundamentally, particularly for these early missions, we will likely use the same phase six gloves.
Chris Hansen: With maybe a different thermal overlay for thermal and abrasion resistance. But fundamentally the gloves are pretty good. There are some areas we definitely can improve, particularly on folks with smaller hands. The gloves are a little bulkier than we’d like them. So we’ve already started looking at ways to improve the flexibility of those gloves. That’s one of those long-term things for us. We think the gloves will probably work fine for the early missions and then as we get smarter we’ll evolve those gloves to make them a little more useful on the Moon. As we kind of learn the things we’ll be doing on the surface of the Moon, we’ll get smarter as we go. Again, this is a sustainable campaign. We want to go there and learn. And as we learn, we’ll upgrade these systems to make them better.
Host: Perfect. We talked a little bit about the materials of the spacesuit. You already went through — I think there was one that was thermal, right? So you have to design this suit to withstand these huge swings in temperatures. What about the logic of some of the other layers of the suit? Like I mean, you’re dealing with pressure. You’re dealing with extreme environments. Maybe a little bit of toughness to deal with the lunar dust. What are the logic of some of the layers of the suit?
Chris Hansen: Yeah, so we think — so a lot of it is thermal control.
Chris Hansen: Inside there’s many layers in EMU. The most inner layer is the bladder and it actually has to hold pressure. Now our suits today, the EMUs also have to hold pressure. So we’ve learned a lot about how to do that. So we don’t expect huge changes in that technology. Thermally we’re also in very extreme thermal environments outside the International Space Station. You know, we orbit the earth and we come in and out of the sun essentially every 45 minutes so it gets very hot and very cold. So the suit was designed to deal with that. So the suit that you see on the Moon will have a lot of very similar materials in terms of that. Again, you talked about abrasions. So we’ll have to deal with the dust and the rocks a little bit. We’ll have to toughen up a few things. But we beat on our suits pretty good on the space station. So we’ve had to kind of already do that. We’ve made our gloves tougher over the years. The space station has lots of micrometeoroid hits that are sharp that crews have to deal with– gloves. We’ve toughened the gloves up quite a bit. From a materials standpoint, I don’t see anything major that’ll be different in the new suits probably.
Host: OK. Now throughout suit history, there’s been lessons learned and different designs. You know, if you look up an astronaut, the first thing you see is basically a spacesuit.
Chris Hansen: Yeah.
Host: So you see these differences in the way that the spacesuit is designed. And we’ve learned a lot. I have a couple notes here just from lessons learned and what you should and should not do when designing a spacesuit. One thing was no zippers or cables. What have we learned from that one?
Chris Hansen: Yeah. Some of that came from a lot of the Apollo program.
Chris Hansen: The Apollo suits had zippers that formed a lot of the pressure.
Chris Hansen: And they were a lot of trouble. The dust particularly got into — the regolith got into the zippers and made it very difficult. We had a lot of cable failures, a lot of mechanism failures with dirt and really sharp fine dust getting into them. So at least for the lunar part we took a lot of lessons from that. Now that’s obviously a problem we don’t have to deal with onboard space station. But we remember a lot of the issues we had back in Apollo. So we’ve taken some of those design features that have caused those issues and we’ve tried to design them out. We’ve had failures of the EMU onboard space station. We talked about the EVA 23 event. And we’ve taken lessons from those failures and we’ve tried to incorporate features in the new suit that will help prevent those things.
Host: I see. Now some of those new suits — you already talked about dust. Dust is a huge one. I know one of the things that really jump out at you when you’re looking at this suit are — you already talked about them a little bit — are the bearings. You know, the shoulders are in a little bit more. It looks like you’re almost like hunched forward a little bit. But it gives you that reach. And those bearings give you yes the mobility you talked about. Kris, whenever she was doing this demonstration reaching all the way across and touching her other shoulder.
Chris Hansen: Yeah.
Host: But there’s also dust protection as part of those bearings as well, right? That’s part of the design.
Chris Hansen: Yeah. So there’s a couple layers. So one of the things — the suit we needed to be as light as possible. One for the person that’s in moving around that has to carry the mass around. But two, the vehicles, the landers themselves have limitations in terms of how much mass they can get down and back up off the surface. So because those bearings are metal, they’re heavy. They’re a heavy part of the suit. They give us a lot of functionality but there’s a price to be paid for that, and that’s in mass. So we’ve looked at making those bearings out of titanium. It’s a little tricky from a bearing standpoint to make those work, but we’ve worked with titanium bearings a lot over the years. So we’ve kind of learned the secrets of how to make bearings out of it. So the bearings are titanium. There’s also a lot of technology — if you look at the military, they build a lot of moving machines and a lot of environments with dirt and dust and sand. And so they’ve learned a lot about how to protect bearings with shields and other things to protect the rolling elements that are inside those bearings. So these suits will incorporate a lot of that. We’ll probably have a cover layer over the top of it that helps keep the dust from even getting to the bearings. So those are things that we’ve got to look at for sure. And we started a lot of that work, but there’s definitely still some work to be done. And if the suits that we send to the Moon in ’24 aren’t perfect with that, we think that’s OK. We’d like to not have to build a new spacesuit every time we go to the Moon. We’d like to make them reusable. But if the first ones aren’t as perfect as we can make them, that’s OK for these first couple missions. We’ll get smarter and we’ll upgrade them as we go with better bearing technology and other areas that we see that we’re having trouble with.
Host: Yeah. Now in terms of the logic of the design, you’ve already alluded to this a little bit when we were talking about the control panel up front. But you mentioned there was a hard upper torso. And I believe the legs are soft material. Was there a reason for choosing those elements?
Chris Hansen: Yeah. That’s the current design. The hard upper torso — there’s some other design concepts out there that have a less hard upper torso. Some of the challenges with that are we have to interface a lot of equipment with it. The life support system has to interface with it. The bearings, the bearings are hard. They have to be interfaced with it. And interfacing those to a hard upper torso is easier in some senses than a soft upper torso. We’re still looking at all those concepts. But in the end that hard upper torso gives us a little more flexibility on how we attach things to it. Now we’re going to make — we’re going to make that hard upper torso. We’re looking at lots of different materials. The current EMU hard upper torsos are made out of fiberglass. We’re looking at composites, carbon composite materials and some other more exotic things to try to make those things as light as we can. The one that you saw was made out of aluminum because it’s easy to machine and it’s easy for us to do conceptual studies with that. So as we look and evaluate those new materials, we have an aluminum one that lets us do other evaluations and show people how it moves and those kinds of things.
Host: Nice. Yeah. As you describe all of this, it gives me more and more of an appreciation from head-to- toe just how much thought had to go into all of this.
Chris Hansen: Yeah.
Host: One of the things actually you mentioned I think right up front when you were talking about designing again the control panel was you started small and then you went big. We’re talking about different suit sizes.
Chris Hansen: Right.
Host: So how does that work? How is everything sized?
Chris Hansen: Yeah. So one of the things with the current EMU, there were limitations as to — the initial program had lots of desires for a lot of different sizes. But financial constraints made them kind of limit the number of sizes they built. It kind of skewed it towards the upper end and it makes it difficult for our smaller astronauts which generally are the female astronauts, generally have– less broad shoulders. And so it makes it a little more complicated to use the suits. They have to fight the suits a little more than someone that’s got longer arms and broader shoulders. We’d like to fix that. We would like to enable all of our astronauts to be able to use this suit. So one of the things the suit does is by pulling the shoulders in the bearings are actually reversible so that we can get significant variation in shoulder width with a single hut design. There’s harnessing and other features inside that allow a broad range of individuals to fit in a single size suit. And then ultimately what we’d like to do is fit a much wider population, you know, from fifth to 95th percentile. That’s something that gets complicated because no human is any one of those things. Different parts of your body are different sizes. And so fitting actual people is much more complicated than just picking a fifth-percentile person or a 95th-percentile person. So we’ve done years of studying what people actually look like and how their bodies are built. This suit is designed to accommodate a very wide range of individuals with just two hard upper torso sizes because of the adjustability that we’ve built into the system.
Chris Hansen: As opposed to today on orbit we have three sizes of hard upper torsos and really could use more on the smaller end than we’ve got today. But we think we can accommodate a much larger range of people with just two hard upper torso sizes.
Host: That is awesome.
Chris Hansen: Yeah.
Host: What a detailed explanation of the xEMU. That was awesome. If you’re ready to go into OCSS, we can do that, unless you want to —
Chris Hansen: Yeah.
Host: OK. Let’s go right into it. One of the highlighting I guess phrases that I pulled from the presentation was that the Orion Crew Survival Suit is tailored to the individual and to the vehicle. And what does that mean?
Chris Hansen: Yeah, so one of the things we want to do is — one of the differences when we’re doing an EVA, we’ve got a lot of work to do. But the crews don’t spend more than about eight hours inside that suit. For the launch and entry suit, they potentially have to spend a lot of time in it. There are failure modes that they’re looking at that will make a crew member potentially have to use that suit for up to six days.
Chris Hansen: So in a suit like that, it needs to fit really well. In addition, the pressure garment itself doesn’t — you don’t have to accomplish as much as you would outside walking around on the surface of the Moon, so you don’t need a lot of the bearings and things that we’ve put into our system. So it’s the pressure garment part of it is simpler in a sense. So it’s easier to custom build those suits per crew member. In addition, those suits have to be integrated. The way the protection system works for Orion is those suits are integrated very closely with the seats themselves. So those seats and the suits together create a system that make landing much safer in an Orion vehicle. We don’t have to deal with that in the exploration suit. It’s not something we’re wearing during launch and entry and those kind of dynamic events. We don’t have to protect the crew in the same way. This suit has to protect the crew members and so it makes sense to make the suits much more custom-fitting and really interact with the vehicle in a way that makes it much safer for all of the occupants.
Host: So what does that mean to integrate? Does that mean you have like a mold on the seat that’s custom-fit to the person? What is the integration part?
Chris Hansen: Yeah, some of it has to do with just the sizes of the seat and the different panels.
Chris Hansen: There’s clips on the bottom of the feet that actually you clip your feet into the seats themselves to help restrain your feet. And there’s other features. There’s harnessing in there that works with the seat to make sure that the seatbelts fit you properly like that.
Host: OK. So I mean, for the most part when we’re on these missions going to and from the Moon, the expectation is that it’s a nominal situation. You put on the suit, you do your thing and you go to the Moon, you come back. But the crew, the suit is designed to protect you in the event of some contingency where you have to survive, you have to protect yourself.
Chris Hansen: Correct.
Host: So what does it look like in a nominal situation? What are you putting on? What are the layers? What’s happening through the phases of flight?
Chris Hansen: Yeah, so they’ll put on a suit. So the suit has a liquid cooling garment underneath similar to the EMU, although it just covers the chest area. We run cooling water from the vehicle. So the vehicle has a heat exchanger that will run cool water through the suit so the crew members will be comfortable. You’ll put on an undergarment then you’ll put the suit on, just really on the ground before you get in the vehicle. You put this on. You’ll put on gloves, you’ll put on a helmet. So it’s less complicated than getting into the xEMU. There’s less interfaces to it. So it’s really like putting on a flight suit in a sense that typical pilots use in airplanes.
Host: OK. Now I think, you know, it will be used to protect the astronauts in some sort of event that were to occur. Now in transit to the Moon, you don’t necessarily need it the whole time, right? That’s going to be a couple days long.
Chris Hansen: No. In fact, they’ll take that suit off.
Chris Hansen: The suit is designed for really launch. And then when they get to a stable position in orbit, they’ll take the suit off and they’ll be in a shirtsleeve environment for most of the time. It’s there and there are requirements that the vehicle has to protect that crew for up to an hour if there’s a depressive incumbents, there’s time to get into those suits and safe themselves before a catastrophic event happens.
Host: OK. Now the reason that we have the suit, right, catastrophic events, something were to happen.
Chris Hansen: Yeah
Host: Let’s say it’s a decompression event. What would the crew be doing to get ready, to start getting into survival mode and put the suit on and start? You know, would they plug into — you said they use the life support systems of Orion.
Chris Hansen: Yeah.
Host: So would they plug in that way?
Chris Hansen: Yep. They would put on the suit and they would plug in.
Chris Hansen: There will be umbilicals attached to the suit and they’ll plug into the vehicle.
Chris Hansen: And fundamentally because you don’t have much time to do it, the first crew member has to be able to get into that suit within 30 minutes. So you don’t have a lot of time. You’ll put the suit on, you’ll plug in, you’ll do leak checks and you’ll make sure everything’s working fine and then you’ll be set.
Chris Hansen: So it’s designed to be flexible and get you to that safe state as quickly as you can.
Host: In the vehicle, right, would you be in your seats in this situation?
Chris Hansen: No, not in that situation. You’ll be floating around. You wouldn’t get into the seats. Really you’d be in the seats really just for landing for reentry and landing.
Host: I see.
Chris Hansen: There’s no reason to be in those seats unless you were reentering.
Host: So you’d be able to move about the cabin just in the suit.
Chris Hansen: Just in the suit.
Host: Plugged in?
Chris Hansen: Yeah.
Chris Hansen: Yeah.
Host: Now you have to live in the suit, right?
Chris Hansen: Yeah.
Host: You said worst-case scenario you’ve got to live in the suit for six days.
Chris Hansen: Yeah.
Host: Now what does that mean? What does it mean to live in the suit?
Chris Hansen: So think about it, so what are the things that keep you alive? Number one is you’ve got to be able to breathe.
Chris Hansen: And so you’ve got to be hooked up to the oxygen system of the vehicle, so the vehicle has to be able to provide oxygen to those crew members. Now if you’re in a depressed vehicle, your suit is now — your suit is acting like a spacesuit in the sense that you have zero pressure on the outside. The suit is designed to operate between four and eight PSI of pure oxygen. So we have to feed pure oxygen in to that crew member. Now the vehicle does all of the functions we talked about. And the xEMU, the Orion vehicle has to do that for the crew. It’s got to scrub CO2 out of that system and it’s got to provide oxygen. It’s got to provide cooling water to them. So it’s got to keep them alive. So that’s the first thing. Second need is food. So you’ve got to be able to — food and water. So you’ve got to be able to drink and eat. So you’ve got to do that. And then you have to get rid of bodily waste. And so the system is designed to make that possible for six days. That’s a very complicated part of the suit you’ve got to be able to get rid of, urine and fecal matter and all those things. So lots of work went into designing this suit that you could actually survive in for up to six days in that condition. It’s an incredibly challenging task for those guys.
Chris Hansen: Yeah.
Host: We talked about decompression. We mentioned smoke, fire, basically this would — in any of these you have to think through. We actually had a podcast about it.
Chris Hansen: OK.
Host: Jason Hutt came on and talked about a lot of these different things. And it was about, you know, if this were to go wrong, what would you do? The suit is designed in any phase of flight to do that. Let’s skip ahead to landing. Because I know there’s parts of the suit that even after landing would help you survive in the ocean for a little bit.
Chris Hansen: Yeah, so they’ve got an integrated life — inflatable lifesaving device that will inflate when they hit the water. That will keep them afloat, keep their head above water. You’ve got a lot of typical — we’ve got lots of experience with search and rescue in the ocean environment. So we’ve got lights and there’s a satellite beacon that’s being designed that will stay above the water that will talk to a satellite system so we can find the crew members. Lights, glow sticks, those kinds of things that you would see in a typical marine environment. The suit’s a dry suit. It’s got a neck dam so that it’ll keep the crew from getting wet which will help keep them warmer. Now we’re not landing in the North Atlantic Ocean, so that helps. So they’re likely to be in a little bit warmer water. But it can be down in the 50-degree range, so you wouldn’t want to spend a lot of time in it wet. So the suit’s designed to deal with that environment and protect them until we can get to them and rescue.
Host: There you go. That’s why it’s called the Orion Crew Survival Suit.
Chris Hansen: There you go.
Host: They’re going to help them survive.
Chris Hansen: Yep.
Host: What fascinating pieces of technology. Let’s go into the development and testing.
Chris Hansen: Yeah, OK.
Host: Because we’ve talked about all the different features of this suit. Tell me about the history. Let’s start with the xEMU because that’s what you’ve been looking at for the most part. How you’ve developed this suit to be what it is and test it where you’ve tested it, those sorts of things.
Chris Hansen: Yeah, so it’s an interesting history with the spacesuit. We’ve had like — we’ve talked about we’ve had the EMU since the early ’80’s. And so we’ve known that the agency needed a new spacesuit. The EMU wasn’t going to work — we’ve only got 11 of them in existence. The technology is very old. We spent a lot of time as technology gets older trying to figure out how to keep it working. Obsolescence becomes an issue for a lot of the materials and electronics and those kinds of things. So we’ve known for quite a while that we needed a new spacesuit. However, there hasn’t been a destination by the agency for a while. When the Constellation program was set up, there was a suit program, a contract was let for that so there’s a company that was out, a company called Oceaneering was off developing a spacesuit for Constellation. So they got quite a ways down the line to the point where we call preliminary design review before the Constellation program was cancelled. But we knew that no matter where we were going, whether it was the Moon or Mars or cislunar space or Lagrange Point or anywhere, we were going all the way to Mars, down to the surface of Mars, we were going to need a new suit. So a lot of really smart spacesuit engineers got together with industry inside NASA, outside NASA to talk about, “OK, given that we could go any of these places, what technology should we put in a new spacesuit?” And we came up with a list that everybody agreed on and we started working on all of those technologies. And so as we got through all the different phases of building test units and we’d test them and they’d break and we’d make it a little bit better and we’d kind of work through that, that’s been going on for almost a decade. And then two years ago we made a decision to build the suit to go test on the International Space Station. One of the things with the space station, officially its end of life is 2024. It is the best place to test spacesuits in the entire universe right now. And so we wanted to make sure our new spacesuit, all this new technology got tested in space before the space station retired. So two years ago we made a plan to build a flight unit to go test it on the International Space Station. So we’ve been working on that suit for two years. It was perfect timing. When the agency, when the country decided, when the president gave us the challenge to go back to the Moon in 2024, we were two years into our project already for a suit that was designed to work on space station. But it was also designed to work on the surface of the Moon. We already thought ahead that this suit needed likely to be able to do that. And so this suit already had most of what it needed in its design. So a lot of what we do — so then we got together and we talked about requirements. That’s always where you start. And that’s really asking the question, “Are we building the suit that we need?” So we talk about, what does this suit need to do? So we define all those requirements and we make sure that we’re all in agreement on that. Then we go start building. The current suit today is at what we call a preliminary design review state. That’s a state where we kind of say, “OK, we’ve looked at the requirements. We have a design we think meets all of those requirements, and this is what that design looks like.” We haven’t built it all yet. We haven’t tested it all. But this is the design that we think will work. We have lots of experts in the room and we talk about that design and see, do we agree that we’ve met the suit’s going to work? So we’ve completed that for this suit. We just completed a couple months ago. So now the team has to take all that input and then go start actually designing the final one. That will lead into what we call a critical design review where we say, “OK, we’ve got a design. We’re about ready to go build one. Do we have the right design?” And then once we have that right design, then we’ll go start building what we call a qualification unit. And then we’ll test that suit in all of the boundary conditions, the extreme cases that we want the suit to work at, that we hope never to put an actual suit through with a crew member in it. But we check and make sure the design works. That’s called a critical design review. We’re about a year, probably about a year out for the xEMU from that. And then we’ll start qualification testing, then we’ll build the flight units, we’ll test those and we’ll send them to the Moon. So for the xEMU, that’s where we’re at. We just finished our preliminary design phase. Now the team’s off working really hard to put those designs together.
Host: Well awesome. I mean, so the suit we saw was essentially what it will be but just maybe through these extra reviews you would find little things here and there that you want to fix before you actually put a person in it on the Moon.
Chris Hansen: Yeah, exactly. And there’s a lot of work going from a conceptual design or design that works in a lab to an actual working physical flight unit that’s been tested and qualified to work in these extreme environments very reliably. There’s a lot of work getting between those two points. And that’s what our teams are going to do. Now the Orion suit’s a little farther along. They’re actually at — they’ve completed their critical design review. So they have a design that’s already set and they’re getting ready to build their flight unit. So they’re quite a bit ahead of us. The Orion vehicle should fly sooner than we’re going to need our suits.
Chris Hansen: So they are ahead of us.
Host: Now in terms of the xEMU, I remember Kate Rubins on the same panel that you were at talking about — she put it on and went into the neutral buoyancy laboratory, this big pool we have at the Johnson Space Center.
Chris Hansen: Yeah.
Host: And she was praising it, talking about how awesome it was.
Chris Hansen: Yeah.
Host: So that was one of the tests you did to actually check out, hey, how’s this thing — is this thing as maneuverable as we think we designed it to be?
Chris Hansen: Yeah. What’s great is being here at JSC where we have the astronauts. We have a whole group of astronauts who have done actual EVAs. They’ve done training in the pool, the neutral buoyancy lab. They’ve done actual EVAs in space with an EMU. They’ve got a ton of experience. Having access to those astronauts is a huge advantage to us. So when we take an astronaut like Kate who’s done EVAs — she’s done two EVAs in space — and put her in this new suit and we asked her, “OK, what’s different between this suit and the EMU?” And she can give us really good, valuable feedback on the differences. We built a pressure garment, put Kate in it. We’ve done over 20 runs in the neutral buoyancy lab with this suit, and the reviews have been fabulous by her. She said the mobility — again we’re not testing the life support system in the pool.
Chris Hansen: But we’re testing the pressure garment and the mobility in those features, and we’re getting rave reviews from all the astronauts. The astronauts and our engineers and ops team that are given the suits, and they’ve done a lot of work in both. Lots of good feedback telling us that the suit design — we’re heading in the right direction that it works really well.
Host: Perfect. A lot more ground testing you did, I think. Is there elements of the suit that’s being tested on space station right now?
Chris Hansen: Yeah, for sure. One of the most important technologies in the suit we talked about, the suit water membrane evaporator. It’s a brand new technology that we’ve never flown in space. And so it was one of I’ll say the highest-risk areas in terms of new technology. So we made a decision a couple years ago that we wanted to take that technology and use the space station to test it. So we took that entire thermal system part of the suit and we put it in a box and we designed it to go into a payload rack onboard the International Space Station. That box in the payload rack on space station will simulate exactly the environment that our spacesuit will be in for this thermal control system. So we’re going to actually run the cooling system. We have water that we’ll put into it. That water will put heat in it just like an astronaut would. We’ll subject it to vacuum just like the suit will see onboard space station. And it will allow us to get a good probably year of testing onboard the space station of our thermal control system which is again probably the lowest technology readiness level of any part of the suit. So we wanted to get on station. So that payload is actually going through its final qualification now. It should be ready to fly in a couple of months and so we’ll launch it to space station early next year. And so we’ll be testing parts of the spacesuit within the next six months onboard space station.
Host: Wonderful. Yeah, let’s take the timeline now to 2024. We’re looking to have a person on the Moon. What are we looking to do? Are we talking like a full-up test on the International Space Station with the whole suit doing a spacewalk? What are we looking forward to here?
Chris Hansen: So there’s a couple phases. We have the first thing that we’re building — we used to call them engineering development units. We call this the development test unit. We’re actually building to the best of our knowledge today what the suit design looks like. We’re building a DVT [Development verification test] unit, a spacesuit that has all the technology and features that we want. That suit will be assembled and ready early next calendar year. So really within the next six to eight months we’ll have that suit ready to go. Now that suit gives us a chance to test all of these features. We can run tests with it. We can put it in a vacuum chamber to make sure that when we set the final design and CDR [Critical design review] that we have all this data with an actual spacesuit. So we’re going to do that testing over the next year. Then we’re going to build — then we’ll start building the qualification unit. We’re going to build two of them at this point is the plan, that allow us to do testing in parallel. The 2024 schedule’s pretty aggressive for us. And we had a head start which helped, but it’s still pretty aggressive. So by building two units it allows us to do testing in parallel a little bit. We’re going to build those qualification units. Those qualification units will require us to take actual human beings and put them in actual vacuum chambers with this suit and test the life support system. So they’ll be very complex, potentially hazardous tests with humans involved in the test to make sure the suits work. We want to put that suit through as rigorous a test as we can on the ground before we send astronauts up and ask them to use it.
Chris Hansen: So the qualification testing will happen. Once we get through the qualification testing program, we’ll have a flight suit. And with the flight suit — we’ll build a flight suit. We don’t want to test those suits to these extreme boundary conditions. We want them — we do that with the qualification units. And with the flight suits we want to take care of them on the ground. So we put them through a limited set of tests to make sure that they work. We will test those. We’ll put a crew member in those suits in a vacuum chamber on the ground to test them and make sure they’re working. Then the plan is this: we’re going to take a single flight suit and we’re going to launch it to the International Space Station. And we’re going to do an EVA with a regular EMU and an xEMU side-by-side. We are already in the process of modifying the space station systems to allow it to service an xEMU. We need higher-pressure oxygen. We need access to a vacuum line. So we’re modifying the station right now. Those designs are happening. So we’ll do that EVA. The idea is to check out that suit on space station before we get to the surface of the Moon. How the schedule works out, we’d like to get that test done on space station before we get to the Moon, but depending on the timing of that we may or may not — that may or may not happen. At the same time we’re building that suit we’ll build two more suits that will then go to the lander companies or however we launch those suits to get them. Likely they’ll get launched to Gateway separately. They’ll be at Gateway waiting for the lander to come. When the lander shows up at Gateway, we’ll transfer those suits over to the lander and then those are the suits that will go down to the surface of the Moon for the first mission.
Host: OK. Yeah, that is aggressive.
Chris Hansen: Yeah, 2024.
Host: You have a lot of work ahead of you. I’m sure the team is really trucking along. It’s a great team, I’m assuming.
Chris Hansen: Yeah, 2024 seems like a long ways away until you start thinking about all these tests and how long they take to run. And then it seems a lot closer. We have a countdown clock we actually use of when we have to deliver the suits.
Host: Now what about the OCSS? I’m going to have to get used to calling it that, but the Orion Crew Survival one.
Chris Hansen: Yeah.
Host: Is that one being tested on Artemis too when we fly people?
Chris Hansen: Yeah, I think that’s their plan, yeah.
Chris Hansen: They’ll use the suit. Again, they’re through their critical design review already so they’ll have those suits read for whenever we put crew members on the Orion vehicle. They’ll have these suits. You have to have a launch and entry suit for safety reasons.
Chris Hansen: And this suit was designed to be there ready for them whenever Orion was ready to fly. So they’ll have that. They’ve already undergone vacuum testing with the suits and their system, so they’ve done a lot of what they call human in the loop testing with those suits. Again, so they’re a bit ahead of us in terms of that. But yeah, they’ll have those suits whenever crew fly on Orion. They’ll be wearing those suits.
Host: Perfect. There’s a lot to look forward to.
Chris Hansen: Yeah.
Host: I did want to end with this one thing. And this was actually I think asked during your presentation. You know, we’re talking about — especially for the xEMU, this suit being designed, we have all these steps to go for the Moon. And there’s a lot of challenges for the Moon.
Chris Hansen: Yeah.
Host: But what about Mars? You know, this has always been a distant goal of ours. But what can we learn from the Moon or what would need to change from the design of these suits to go from a suit that’s walking on the Moon to a suit that’s walking on Mars?
Chris Hansen: Yeah. Fundamentally there’s a lot of technology that’s in these suits that will help us go to Mars. Particularly in terms of what do we need to do with these suits and how do the crews interact with them. There are some challenges for Mars that we’re going to have to figure out. Mars has an atmosphere. It’s a CO2, low-pressure CO2 primarily atmosphere. So our CO2 system that dumps CO2 into the atmosphere doesn’t have vacuum associated. So we have to figure out how to get rid of that CO2. Our current system won’t work exactly the same way. Maybe a variant of the system will work. We have to start thinking about that. The cooling system will work differently with an atmosphere. Our cooling system depends on us evaporating water into vacuum and there’s no vacuum there. So it won’t be as efficient. So we’ll have to find ways to make these systems a little more efficient. The thermal environment is likely to be different with that atmosphere. I don’t know whether it’s better or worse yet, but our teams will have to go figure out what are the changes in the new environment. I think we’re going to learn a lot by building a suit that’s going to be directly applicable to Mars. And then very quickly, as soon as we get past the design for the lunar phase, we’ll start thinking about ways to test and develop those new systems. So we’ll be ready when we’re ready to go to Mars. We’ll have a suit that’s ready that can do it.
Host: Wonderful. This is an incredible time.
Chris Hansen: Yeah, it’s exciting.
Host: Chris Hansen, thank you so much for coming on the podcast and talking about these suits for Artemis.
Chris Hansen: Excellent. Thanks for having me.
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Host: Hey, thanks for sticking around. I hope you learned a lot about these Artemis generation spacesuits and are looking forward to actually seeing them in action when they’re used to go to and from the Moon and on the surface of the Moon. If you love podcasts, we’ve got a great website for that, NASA.gov/podcasts. If you want to know more about the Artemis program and all there is to it just besides the spacesuits, NASA.gov/Artemis. We also have more on the NASA.gov/moon2mars page of NASA.gov. And then if you like spacesuits, NASA.gov/suitup. You can check out some of the featured articles that explains the suits a little more there. And if you’re a provider for the lunar suit, the xEMU, there’s an RFI or a request for information to help refine and mature the acquisition strategy for production and services for lunar spacesuits that you can fill out and give feedback to NASA. Otherwise, you can see what else we’re doing at Houston, We Have a Podcast and the Johnson Space Center at our accounts on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Use the hashtag #AskNASA on your favorite platform to submit an idea for the show. Just make sure to mention us for Houston, We Have a Podcast. This episode was recorded on October 30th, 2019. Thanks to Alex Perryman, Pat Ryan, Norah Moran, Belinda Pulido and to Lisa Salazar and Stephanie Sipila for helping to bring this all together. Thanks again to Chris Hansen for taking the time to come on the show. We’ll be back next week.