To infinity and beyond! Nasa reveals new spacesuit – but was it designed by a fan of Buzz LightyearNasa's white and green Z-1 prototype space suit looks remarkably similar to that worn by the cartoon heroThe main advance in Nasa's suit is a rear-entry point to make it easier and quicker to put on than previous versionsJoints and materials have also been redesigned so that astronauts can move more easily when wearing the suit
20:37 GMT, 19 December 2012
Nasa's next generation of space suit – the agency's first in 20 years – will look familiar to fans of computer generated cartoon classic Toy Story.
That's because the new white and green Z-1 suit bears more than a passing resemblance to the interstellar hero Buzz Lightyear.
The prototype suit was revealed in a host of pictures uploaded today to photo-sharing website Flickr, and it boasts trim of the same hue as that worn by the space ranger action figure.
To infinity, and beyond! Nasa's new Z-1 prototype space suit, which, with its fetching bright green trim, looks rather like that worn by cartoon hero Buzz Lightyear
Nasa's inspiration The Star Command space ranger strikes a similar pose in Toy Story 2
A large hemispherical transparent dome covering the wearer's head also looks remarkably similar to that worn by Buzz – although the latest pictures do not make clear if Nasa's version comes pre-programmed catchphrases.
The main advance in Nasa's rather more primitive effort is that it will have an entry point at the rear to make it easier to don than previous suits.
Astronauts will be able to climb into it as quickly as you see in films, and not take an hour as they do now. The new suit will also effectively be its own airlock, dispensing with the need to spend time getting the pressure right.
The 'Z-1 Prototype Spacesuit and Portable Life Support System (PLSS) 2.0', to give it its full title, will hopefully be ready in the next couple of years.
On the rear will be a giant backpack which doubles as a hatch that can latch onto another space ship or Rover-like vehicle. There is therefore no need for ‘Prebreathing’ which involves using oxygen to make sure the suit is the same pressure as the ship, and can take up to an hour.
There will be better bearings on the legs, ankles, hips and waist to help astronauts move more naturally whilst a urethane-coated nylon and polyester layers control the pressure more efficiently.
Flexible: A Nasa engineer shows how the improved suit allows its wearer greater mobility than previous versions. It is also designed to be quicker to put on
New technology will also create more efficient cooling and will get rid of carbon dioxide more easily. Currently certain components have to be baked between missions to get rid of it.
Nasa says the Z-1 represents a potential soft exploration extravehicular activity (EVA) suit configuration, though its description 'is a bit of a misnomer', according to Spacesuit Engineer Kate Mitchell.
'The suit actually contains several hard mobility elements,' she said. 'The term “soft” is intended to convey the idea that the primary structures of the suit are pliable fabrics when unpressurized.'
This prototype suit is the first in a series being developed under the AES suit project, with the aim to have a new 'vacuum-compatible' suit ready by 2015 at the latest.
'The Z-1 was developed as a test bed to go and test various technologies and mobility joints so we can further define our architecture going forward,' Ms Mitchell said.
How Nasa's suit matches up to the Star Command model: The latest pictures do not make clear if Nasa's version comes pre-programmed catchphrases – but it otherwise looks remarkably similar
The lessons from the first version will be taken into account for the development of its planned next iteration, the Z-2.
Amy Ross, lead of the Space Suit Assembly Technology Development team, said: 'The data we’re gathering now will feed tools that will help us build better suits in the future.
'We haven’t built a new flight system since the EMU (Extravehicular Mobility Unit). The last major prototype we developed was in 1992.'
With missions to Mars now on the horizon, an updated version was called for.
The project has been especially taxing for NASA engineers as do not yet know where the space suit will be used, meaning it has to be ready for anything.
Ms Ross added: ‘It's like you're trying to go on vacation, but you don't know if you're going to Antarctica, Miami, or Buckingham Palace’.