NASA Spacesuits Could Be Showstopper

The website Space.com had an article that I thought was worth passing along.  A government watch group audited NASA and, after spending $200 million dollars over 10 years, you would think that NASA would be close to if not had a spacesuit for the next generation spacecraft by now.  The truth is that the space agency is still years away from a new space suit being ready.  The suits, called the “Orion Crew Survival System (OCSS)”, will protect the crew from fire, smoke, and toxic fumes as well as providing pressure in the event something happens to the capsule like a breach.  According the Space.com, the new suits wont be ready until March 2021, just five months before the scheduled initial targeted launch date of the first crewed flights aboard Orion and the Space Launch System (SLS) mega rocket.

The OCSS is just one of three new spacesuits being developed, but the truth is that NASA’s running out of time to test these suits on the International Space Station before its projected retirement and death plunge into Earth’s atmosphere in 2024.

The suit studies began during the Constellation Program that NASA had created in an effort to meet then President George W. Bush and from 2006 through 2016, ‘NASA spent about $12 million on designs and prototypes on the suits according to a report released by the NASA Inspector General Paul Martin.’  A lot of attention has come about due to the Trump Administration’s request to see if it is possible to put crew on the first flight of the SLS rocket now scheduled for November 2018.  That date, even without crew, looks like it will slip into 2019 because issues with the Orion service module, being built by the European Space Agency, but with crew a longer slip may happen due to the fact that the unmanned launch of Orion would fly without life support and the further testing of the system would have to be completed to certify it for flight.

NASA has not said if it is possible to put astronauts on the maiden flight of the SLS rocket, but if it is decided to put crew aboard the Orion on that historic flight, they will have to wear one of the OCSS suits.  The bottom line is that ‘NASA spent $135.6 million dollars on the Constellation suits (the program ended in 2010), but instead of terminating the contract, NASA continued to pay the contractor an additional $80.8 million between 2011 and 2016 to develop more technologies.  NASA got blasted about this decision by the report, and considering our tax dollars haven’t yielded any results from the extra payments, I can understand why the watch group frowned upon that decision.  NASA also spent another $51.6 million on a follow-up program called the Advanced Space Suit Project.

I am aware that the suits for the Orion spacecraft is more complex than those of the commercial companies because Boeing and SpaceX know the parameters their suits will be used for, while NASA does not.  NASA suit engineers have to know how they will operate.  A suit will need to work differently if an astronaut was on the moon, or on Phobos, or on Mars because of the difference in radiation and other environmental factors.  The direction for NASA’s new program has been lacking and I’m sure a lot of the problems and the lack of any real progress can be seen by the watch group and the American public at this point.

‘NASA’s Associate Administrator Bill Gerstenmaier said that he accepts the recommendations and will issue a report about improving the agency’s spacesuit development initiatives by September 30th.’

 

Source:

www.space.com  (March 26, 2017)

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