A recent audit paints a grim picture of the agency’s space suit decisions.
Loren Grush reports: The state of NASA’s space suit supply looks bleak in a new report from the space agency’s auditor. NASA is still “years away” from having a new space suit ready for future deep-space missions, the report claims, even though the agency has invested close to $200 million on space suit development since 2007.
Meanwhile, NASA seems to be running out of the space suits it does have for the astronauts on the ISS. Only a fraction of the original space suit supply for the station is fully functional right now, and NASA may risk not having enough space suits to last through the end of the ISS program, currently scheduled for 2024.
These problems, outlined by NASA’s Office of Inspector General (OIG), could turn into major roadblocks for NASA as it tries to pull off its long-term human exploration plans. Right now, NASA’s goal is to start building a human outpost in the space near the Moon throughout the 2020s, where astronauts can live and train for future deep-space missions. Then in the 2030s, the first Mars astronauts will leave from this outpost and make the journey to the Red Planet.
Space suits will be a critical part of turning those plans into reality. Suits allow crew members to venture from their vehicles and do outside work or repairs, and they’ll certainly be needed to keep astronauts alive on the surface of Mars. However, different types of space suits are needed depending on the destination. The Martian environment, for instance, has different temperatures, gravity, and radiation levels than the space around the Moon. And various types of suits must be made to accommodate these different conditions.
To prepare for these deep-space environments, NASA has funded three different programs geared toward developing new space suits. However, the OIG report argues that these development efforts have been slow and complicated, since NASA has lacked a clear plan up until now on exactly where it wanted people to go in space. It was only recently that NASA outlined its plans to build a station near the Moon before heading to Mars. And though NASA has poured millions into these projects over the last decade, the agency has also taken funding away from space suit development and redistributed it toward other development projects.
Meanwhile, the report argues that NASA may have misspent some of the money it hasput into these development programs. The OIG report highlights the fact that from 2011 to 2016, NASA has put more than $80 million into a space suit development initiative established under the now-defunct Constellation program … (read more)
via The Verge