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Digital Subscriptions > Newsweek International > 21st July 2017 > STYLIN’ ON MARS

STYLIN’ ON MARS

The new space suits for life on the red planet need to be comfortable and fiercely protective of the humans inside

MARS

THE SPACE SUIT is torn between humanity’s two chief desires: exploration and protection. None more so than the one some of us will be wearing on Mars—which could determine astronauts’ survival while farther from Earth than humans have ever traveled before. But what people end up wearing on Mars is not just about being protected: What’s the point of going all the way to the red planet if we can’t act as humans do? We need to be able to bend down on one knee to collect a rock sample, or use our uniquely opposable thumbs to grip a tool and make a repair.

Space suits are as important as thruster types and rocket fuels—and maybe more so—for the eventual success of a mission to Mars. After all, the suit’s capabilities and limitations will determine what kind of work we can do once we have gone to all the trouble of getting there, says Dr. Sheyna Gifford, who lived for eight months in the Mars simulation HI-SEAS IV atop Hawaii’s Mauna Kea and has tested suits of various kinds. A good space suit is like a personal space ship: It must keep you alive but also help you live, says Gifford. It has to be practical: “Can you tie cords? Turn handles that open and close water lines? Does the suit keep you from tripping and prevent falls while still allowing you to carry water, mounted lights and cameras? It must have components that aren’t just robust but are replaceable, swappable and upgradeable,” says Gifford. The challenges are pretty well agreed upon by space suit experts, but how to address them has brought two competing—and very different— types of suit design to the forefront.

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