The history-making spacesuits worn by the first woman and next American astronaut to walk on the moon will be left on a SpaceX lunar lander instead of being returned to Earth for reuse or museum display.
Axiom Space, the Houston-based space services company selected by NASA to design, build and supply spacesuits for 2025 Artemis 3 moon landing mission, unveiled a prototype of its lunar garb (opens in new tab) at a press event at Space Center Houston on Wednesday (March 15). Axiom president and CEO Michael Suffredini and Mark Greeley, the company’s program manager for extravehicular activity, spoke. about the fate of the Artemis 3 spacesuits (opens in new tab) in a short interview.
“They’re coming up Starshipand then the crew will transfer from the Orion to the Starship to land on the surface of the moon,” Greeley told collectSPACE.com, referring to how the two spacecraft first landed on the moon.
NASA’s approach to achieving the first lunar landing in more than 50 years was different from the last time it landed on Apollo, with the crew launching separately from the moon lander and then rendezvous in lunar orbit. Four Artemis 3 astronauts will leave Earth aboard the Lockheed Martin-built Orion capsule. Once on the moon, two of the crew will transfer to the human landing system, a version of SpaceX’s Starship spacecraft (opens in new tab)while the other two remain in lunar orbit aboard Orion.
At the end of mission surface operations (opens in new tab)the two Artemis the moonwalkers — including the first woman to land on the moon — will leave the Starship and then rendezvous with Orion to return to Earth. Due to weight constraints, only the small stash of moon rocks they bring back from the lunar surface, and perhaps some low-mass equipment, will be transferred to Orion for the journey home.
“The spacesuits will return to the Starship, and then the Starship will remain [lunar] orbit indefinitely,” Greeley said.
Related: Axiom Space unveiled the prototype spacesuit for Artemis astronauts on the moon
At least that’s the plan for the two Axiom Extravehicular Mobility Unit (AxEMU) spacesuits used on Wednesday’s Artemis 3 mission.
“That’s the current thought process,” Suffredini said. “But it’s a few years from now, and those kinds of things come up. So I wouldn’t be surprised if we have a conversation at some point about what might be possible.”
“Maybe the gloves or some other small parts could come back,” Greeley added.
Once back from the top of the the moon, the Starship lacks the fuel needed to fly back to Earth. The vehicle is designed so that it can be refueled, but for Artemis 3 in late 2025, no refilling station is expected to be available.
Whatever can and will return from the moon, in terms of AxEMUs, will be Axiom Space‘s to do with as the company chooses.
“The suits are ours,” Suffredini said. ‘We provide a service, and that’s really important, because if we don’t own them, we can’t sell the services to others. That’s the whole concept behind this commercialization thing that NASA is doing. If NASA builds them, it’s hard to sell services, but when we build them ourselves and provide NASA services, we can also sell services to others. So we own that asset.”
If the Artemis 3 AxEMU spacesuits are thrown into lunar orbit, it won’t be the first time that astronauts’ clothes from historic NASA missions have not been saved.
During the Apollo missions, NASA astronauts wore the same pressure suits to walk on the moon as they did to launch from and return to Earth, so the suits made the round trip (opens in new tab). The parts they added to enable working on the moon’s surface, though, were often left out to save weight.
Therefore, the boots (or overshoes) Apollo 11 astronauts Neil Armstrong his first “small step” was still at Tranquility Base.
Related: Apollo 11: Everything you need to know about the historic moon landing
During the space shuttle period, the only spacesuits lost were those aboard the ill-fated Challenger and Columbia missions. Once the decision was made to retire the winged orbiters, the first thought was that NASA would store the remaining spacesuit parts of the shuttle. at the International Space Station (opens in new tab).
Due to the lack of vehicles with the required downmass capability, the plan for extravehicular mobility units (EMUs) is to phase them out as they age out of service. The spacesuits will be allowed to burn (opens in new tab) along with other waste packed aboard Russian cargo ships.
In the end, that didn’t happen, as NASA turned to its commercial partners to fly crew and cargo to and from the space station. of SpaceX Dragon The spacecraft has since been used to land spacesuit parts for servicing on Earth, which allows their continuous reuse (opens in new tab).
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