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General Studies 3 >> Science & Technology

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For the upcoming Artemis missions, NASA’s first attempt at landing astronauts on the moon since 1972, the spacesuit used will see a significant upgrade. Unlike the bulky and iconic suits in which Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin skipped around on the lunar surface, the new suit will be more nimble, comfortable, and designed to fit a broader array of body types.

About NASAs new Space suit

  • Demonstration at the Houston Space Center, James Stein, the suit’s chief engineer, showcased not just the increased mobility provided by the suit when compared to what was previously used, but also other interesting features. 
  • The suit comes from Axiom space, a private company based out of Houston, Texas, though it incorporates design elements used in previous suits by NASA.
  • It will be worn during the Artemis III mission, the program's first moon landing, which is scheduled for 2025.
  • It is called the AxEMU (Axiom Extravehicular Mobility Unit).

What does a spacesuit do?

  • Without a spacesuit, humans will not survive for long in the harsh conditions of outer space or the lunar surface.
  • First, spacesuits protect the human body from the extreme temperature fluctuations of space. In absence of an atmosphere, areas that receive direct sunlight become extremely hot whereas areas in the dark are frigid.
  • The first job of a space suit is to insulate the astronaut inside from extreme temperatures.
  • Second, spacesuits also provide astronauts with a constant supply of air and optimum air pressure around their bodies. They are pressurized to this effect, making them more like human-shaped space vehicles than a piece of clothing.
  • Third, spacesuits protect astronauts from space radiation which can be extremely harmful, as well as micrometeorites and other particles moving across space, often at incredible speeds.
  • On the lunar surface, suits also protect astronauts from lunar dust, considered by NASA experts as the number one environmental problem on the moon.
  • Much more abrasive than dust on the earth, it tends to corrode everything it comes into contact with and can potentially cause lung diseases.
  • By helping astronauts survive even in the harshest conditions of space, spacesuits allow them to perform tasks in space, carry out experiments and fulfill the objectives of their mission.

Issues with Older Space suits

  • The Apollo missions (1961-72) were a landmark achievement in space exploration.
  • The spacesuits worn in the mission were also revolutionary for the time.
  • Unlike rudimentary spacesuits used for previous space missions, the Apollo suits had their own life support systems and did not balloon when exposed to the vacuum of space.
  • They also incorporated boots ideal for walking on the lunar surface.
  • Technological tweaks aside, little has changed in the fundamentals of suits for spacewalking that are used in the International Space Station.
  • However, these suits are rigid and uncomfortable to be in. While rubberized bellows at the shoulders, elbows, hips, and knees allowed a degree of flexibility,
  • Astronauts struggle against the stiffness. This is why Armstrong and Aldrin soon discovered that “skipping” was easier than “walking” on the lunar surface, as it did not require bending knees. 
  • Long handles were used in various tools as bending the waist was nearly impossible, though even holding things is difficult due to the gloves worn.
  • Astronaut Kathy Thornton told Engineering and Technology that working in a space suit is like trying to adjust the carburetor on your truck while wearing baseball mittens.

Improvements made in the New Spacesuit

  • During the demonstration, the most noticeable upgrade was in the mobility offered by the new spacesuits.
  • Stein jumped, squatted, and performed a variety of different movements to show off AxEMU's nimbleness. He also performed a range of movements that would be impossible in the previous space suits. 
  • The large clear bubble around the head provides a much wider range of visibility as well as lightning, which will be important when astronauts step into shadowed craters near the lunar south pole, where NASA hopes to study water ice.
  • The headpiece also has a mount for a high-definition camera.
  • Another important feature of the suit is its design which fits a broader range of body types comfortably, with provisions to make more specific adjustments in fit.
  • An increased sizing and adjustability accommodate a wider range of the general population, providing a superior fit for astronauts while increasing their comfort and ability to perform tasks.
  • As far as protection goes, the increased mobility has not come at its cost. The AxEMU has been specifically designed to better deal with lunar dust.

About Artemis III mission

Image Source: NASA

Previous year Questions

1. What is the purpose of the US Space Agency’s Themis Mission, which was recently in the news? (UPSC 2008)
A.  To study the possibility of life on Mars
B.  To study the satellites of Saturn
C.  To study the colorful display of high-latitude skies
D. To build a space laboratory to study the stellar explosions
Answer: C
2. In the context of space technology, what is “Bhuvan”, recently in the news? (UPSC 2010)
A.  A mini-satellite launched by ISRO for promoting distance education in India
B.  The name was given to the next Moon Impact Probe, for Chandrayaan-II
C.  A geoportal of ISRO with 3D imaging capabilities of India
D.  A space telescope developed by India
Answer: C
3. Which of the following pairs is/are correctly matched? (UPSC 2014)
               Spacecraft                                                         Purpose
1. Cassini-Huygens:                                 Orbiting Venus and transmitting data to theEarth   
2. Messenger:                                            Mapping and investigating the Mercury
3. Voyager 1 and 2:                                   Exploring the outer solar system
Select the correct answer using the code given below:
A. 1 only
B. 2 and 3 only
C. 1 and 3 only
D. 1, 2 and 3
Answer: B

For Prelims

For Prelims: NASA, Artemis I, Artemis II, Artemis III, AxEMU (Axiom Extravehicular Mobility Unit), Axiom space, Apollo missions (1961-72), and Lunar Surface.
Source: The Indian Express

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