The historic spacesuits worn by the first woman and next American astronaut to walk on the moon will be abandoned on a SpaceX lunar lander rather than being returned to Earth for reuse or display in a museum.
Axiom Space, the Houston-based space services company selected by NASA to design, build and supply the spacesuits for 2025 Artemis 3 moon landing mission, unveiled a prototype of her moon outfit (opens in a new tab) during a press conference at Space Center Houston on Wednesday, March 15. Axiom President and CEO Michael Suffredini and Mark Greeley, the company’s Program Manager for Extravehicular Activities, spoke on the fate of the Artemis 3 space suits (opens in a new tab) in a brief interview.
“They will ride on Spatialshipthen the crew will transition from Orion to Starship to descend to the lunar surface,” Greeley told collectSPACE.com, referring to how the two garments would first arrive on the moon.
NASA’s approach to achieving the first lunar landing in over 50 years differs from the last time it went with Apollo, in that the crew launches separately from the lunar lander and then ends up in lunar orbit. Four Artemis 3 astronauts will leave Earth aboard the ship built by Lockheed Martin Orion capsule. Once on the moon, two of the crew members will be transferred to the human landing system, one version of SpaceX’s Starship spacecraft (opens in a new tab)while the other two remain in lunar orbit aboard Orion.
At the end of mission surface operations (opens in a new tab)both Artemis moonwalkers – including the first woman to land on the moon – will take off on Starship and then travel with Orion back to Earth. Due to weight constraints, only the small stash of moon rocks they bring back from the lunar surface, and possibly some low-mass equipment, will be transferred to Orion for the return trip.
“The space suits will return to Starship, then Starship will remain in [lunar] orbit indefinitely,” Greeley said.
Related: Axiom Space unveils prototype spacesuit for Artemis astronauts on the moon
At least that’s the plan for the two Axiom Extravehicular Mobility Unit (AxEMU) spacesuits used for the Artemis 3 mission starting Wednesday.
“That’s the current thought process,” Suffredini said. “But that’s several years away, and these kinds of things happen. So it wouldn’t surprise me if we had a conversation at some point about what might be possible.”
“Maybe gloves or other small parts could come back,” added Greeley.
Once back from the surface of the moon, Starship will not have the fuel to return to Earth. The vehicle is designed to be refuelable, but for Artemis 3 in late 2025, no refueling station should be available.
Anything that can and does return from the moon, in terms of AxeEMU, will be Axiom spaceIt has to do with the choice of company.
“The suits are ours,” Suffredini said. “We provide a service, and that’s really important, because if we didn’t own them, we couldn’t sell services to others. That’s the whole concept behind this marketing thing NASA is doing. If NASA builds them, it is difficult to sell services, but when we build them ourselves and provide services to NASA, we can also sell services to others. So we own that asset.”
If the Artemis 3 AxEMU spacesuits are thrown into lunar orbit, it wouldn’t be the first time astronaut outfits from NASA’s historic missions couldn’t be saved.
During the Apollo missions, NASA astronauts wore the same compression garments to walk on the moon as they did to take off and return to Earth, so the suits went back and forth (opens in a new tab). However, the parts they added to enable work on the lunar surface were often left out to save weight.
Hence the boots (or overshoes) that the Apollo 11 astronaut Neil Armstrong he wore to take his first “small step” are still at Tranquility Base.
Related: Apollo 11: Everything you need to know about the historic moon landing
During the spaceship At the time, the only spacesuits lost were those aboard the ill-fated Challenger and Columbia missions. Once it was decided to retire the winged orbiters, the initial idea was that NASA would store the remaining parts of the shuttle spacesuit. on the International Space Station (opens in a new tab).
Lacking a vehicle with the required mass reduction capability, the plan for the extravehicular mobility units (EMUs) was to phase them out as they aged out of service. THE spacesuits would be allowed to burn (opens in a new tab) with other garbage packed aboard a worn Russian freighter.
Ultimately, that didn’t happen, as NASA turned to its commercial partners to fly crew and cargo to and from the space station. by SpaceX Dragon the spacecraft has since been used to land spacesuit components for servicing on Earth, allowing their continued reuse (opens in a new tab).
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