Internet users and space enthusiasts are about to come one step closer to deciding the future of space travel. NASA is using the crowdsourcing power of the Web to help to pick the final cover layer design for its next generation spacesuit, and you can vote online until April 15.
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More than 83,000 people had already cast their votes as of Wednesday morning on three prototypes, designed jointly by NASA engineers, suit manufacturer ILC Dover and design students from Philadelphia University.
All three candidates are equally as trendy in form and function, but ultimately only one cover layer will be built to go over the Z-2 prototype spacesuit, which NASA spokesman Dan Huot said will be more mobile and can be put on and taken off more easily than the previous Z-1 suit.
Where the bulky, white spacesuits worn by astronauts for the last 30 years have worked well on previous missions “where you’re floating around, there’s no gravity and you don’t have to worry about weight," the old suits "won't work very well" on planet surfaces where there's gravity, such as Mars, Huot told ABC news.
“We’ve always known we need a different suit for when we get on Mars,” Huot said.
What people are actually voting on is not the spacesuit itself but the cover layer, which serves to protect the layers underneath from snags and abrasions.
So far, the most popular is the “Technology” cover layer, which has received almost 65 percent of votes, said Huot.
“The Technology one looks a lot like an old Apollo suit. It kind of has that same general look, except with the addition of the light emitting patches,” Huot said. Luminex wire and light-emitting patches on the upper torso will make it easier for astronauts to identify their fellow space walkers, but they "may or may not be incorporated in the final design," Huot said.
The "Biomimicry" cover was designed with Earth’s oceans in mind; “an environment with many parallels to the harshness of space,” according to NASA's website. It features panels with wire that lights up to mimic the bioluminescence, or natural production of light, by certain deep sea animals.
The final option called “Trends in Society” is a prototype of what the designers believe "every day clothes may look like in the not-too-distant future." The bright colors, teardrop patches and contrast stitching is meant to resemble the current trends in sportswear design. It also features elements that make a nod to the “emerging world of wearable technologies,” according to the website.
NASA expects the final Z-2 suit to be built by November this year. It will then undergo rigorous testing in a number of harsh environments, including in a vacuum chamber, a huge indoor pool and at a large rock yard that mimics the surface of Mars.
People can vote for their favorite design until April 15. A special “Ask Me Anything” session on Reddit will also be held at 2:30 p.m. ET today where NASA will answer questions on the suit and cover layers.
Last December, NASA admitted that aging spacesuits were to blame for the early end of a spacewalk on the International Space Station. The spacewalk was aborted nearly an hour early when the lead spacewalker began complaining about chilly temperatures in his spacesuit, which turned out to be water that had leaked into the suit.