July 22, 2024

NASA faces a challenge to get to the moon by 2024: the billion-dollar spacesuit program

4 min read
Imagem Assine o Estadão
Imagem Assine o Estadão

since to White House I ordered NASA Send astronauts to Takes By 2024, as part of the Artemis program, all kinds of terrible challenges loom: the development of the rocket that the space agency will use has suffered setbacks and delays; The spacecraft that will carry astronauts to the lunar surface is not yet ready and has been delayed due to companies losing out in trying to manufacture it; And Congress failed to provide the funding needed for NASA’s claims.

But another reason the 2024 goal may not be met is that the spacesuits needed for astronauts to walk on the moon will not be ready in time, and the comprehensive development program, which will eventually produce only two ready-made suits. It could cost more than $1 billion.

Development of the suits has been delayed by nearly two years due to funding shortfalls, the effects of the coronavirus pandemic and technical challenges, NASA’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) said in a report published Tuesday. As a result, the government’s audit body concluded that flight suits will be ready, at best, in 2025 and that “a lunar landing at the end of 2024, as NASA is currently planning, is not possible.”

NASA has been working on the next generation of spacesuits, which operate like small spacecraft while protecting astronauts from the vacuum of outer space, for 14 years, according to the OIG. In 2016, NASA decided to combine two spacesuit development projects into a single program under its supervision. By 2017, the agency had spent $200 million, and since then it has spent another $220 million, OIG finds. Although the program is maintained at the agency, costume components are still offered by 27 companies.

In the future, the Office of the Inspector General said that NASA plans to spend an additional $625.2 million. That would bring the amount being spent on development and testing to more than $1 billion by fiscal year 2025, “when the first two flying spacesuits will be available,” the OIG found. In addition to these two suits, the program will develop an experimental suit that can be used on the space station, two “qualifying” suits to test the life support system in use, and another suit “used to test the design and functionality of the space suit before it is worn by astronauts.”

The Office of the Inspector General (OIG) said spacesuit development problems were “in no way the only factor affecting the feasibility of returning the agency to the lunar agenda.” The agency also said “significant delays” on NASA’s Space Launch System rocket and Orion spacecraft are also contributing. The EIG said delays related to the development of the spacecraft to land on the Moon will “make a landing in 2024 not possible”.

In April, NASA awarded SpaceX, of Elon Musk, a $3 billion contract to use the Starship spacecraft to carry astronauts to the lunar surface in a program known as the Human Landing System. But the losers in the Blue Origin show from Jeff Bezosand Dynetics, an Alabama-based military defense company, protested the decision. The protests were not successful, but they forced NASA to delay the implementation of its contracts with SpaceX.

The effort marks the first time that NASA has led the development of a new wearable suit in the vacuum of outer space in more than 40 years. The Office of the Inspector General’s report noted that the spacesuits currently on board the International Space Station “exceeded their life expectancy by more than 25 years, requiring costly maintenance to ensure the safety of the astronaut.”

Nor do they wear all kinds of bodies. In 2019, NASA astronaut Anne McClain canceled what would have been the first woman to walk in space from the space station after deciding the suit was too big for her. This sparked a wave of criticism that NASA was not meeting the needs of female astronauts in a space program that had long been dominated by men.

The new suits will be re-engineered to fit a wider range of sizes and improve fit, comfort and mobility, according to the EIG Group. The suits would have a looser underside, which would allow the astronauts to walk and kneel more easily and avoid the “rabbit jumps” that Apollo astronauts performed on the Moon between the 1960s and early 1970s.

EIG said that NASA, which developed them in-house, faced many technical and design difficulties when developing the new suits. Even the shoes caused problems.

If NASA landed at the Moon’s south pole, as expected, the suit and boots should be able to withstand “extreme changes in temperature” and transition between the “temperate environment” where the spacecraft landed and the “harsh environment”, from the permanently dark pole region. .

The SIGIR said this is a challenge because “access to appropriate materials is limited and the technology needed to help address these challenges is still being tested.”

On Twitter, Musk offered his company’s services, “SpaceX can do this if needed.” / AUGUSTO CALIL . translation

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