The US space agency yesterday placed an order for new spacesuits for the 2015 launch of the new Orion capsule, designed to replace the aging space shuttle and re-establish humans on the Moon as part of the Constellation Program.
US firm Oceaneering International won the contract worth up to $745 million, which involves design, testing, evaluation and production of a suit that can be worn in two different styles.
The "default" version (see image, right) is designed for use during launch and landing aboard Orion, trips to the International Space Station, and spacewalks for contingency operations.
It will also be used to protect astronauts against unforeseen circumstances like cabin leaks.
For expeditions on the lunar surface, though, astronauts will be able to replace certain parts of that suit with other components to create a version more suited for strolling (see image, lower right).
The suit will need to cope with a large number of moonwalks with minimal maintenance during the planned six-month lunar outpost expeditions.
The current spacesuits used by spacewalking astronauts were designed for weightless floating in space, not walking on the Moon, says, project manager for the spacesuit system at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, US.
"They were built to solve a completely different set of problems," he says. Astronauts on the Moon will need lighter-weight suits that can bend and be easily manoeuvred, he added.
Suits and the life-support systems that go with them will be needed for up to four astronauts on Moon voyages and as many as six space station travellers.