Why we need all-new space suits to survive Mars

(air pressurizing) – Ooh!- You OK? – Yeah.

– All right.

– What happens if you fall over? – Uh, it hurts.

(laughs) – OK, don't fall over.

Designing a spacesuit is anincredibly complicated process combining knowledge oftextiles, engineering, biology, and atmospheric science.

That means there's no onesize fits all for a suit.

Right now, astronauts going to the International SpaceStation have a specialized suit geared for spacewalksin lower Earth orbit, but different suits will be needed if we wanna go elsewherein the solar system, and they'll have to be tailored to the place an astronaut is going.

Luckily, I found a placethat will let me cosplay as a future planetary explorer.

(low music) We're here in the greatState of North Dakota.

The university here has ahuman spaceflight laboratory where they make prototype spacesuits for going to the moon or to Mars, and they said I get to try one on.

This is Pablo de León, a professor here at the University of NorthDakota, and the head of the lab.

And that lifeless formon the table between us, that's a prototype spacesuit for Mars called the NDX-1 that I'm about to try on.

It's been tested out insome extreme environments including Antarctica, andsimulated Martian surfaces at NASA, so it's the real deal.

But first, I wanna know whatit takes to make a spacesuit.

– [Pablo] It's verydifficult to contain a human inside basically whatis a bag full of oxygen.

– [Loren] Yeah.

– So, you know, you have to create itin a way that is mobile, that is comfortable for the astronaut, that is safe and will protecthim or her of the vacuum, and all the other dangersthat you have in space.

When you design a suit, you have to take into consideration ofthe environment we're in.

You have to study that particular place.

For example, we use a Mars simulant that simulates thecharacteristics of Mars soil, because we don't have anyMars soil yet here on Earth.

So basically, it's dust, gravity, atmospheric composition.

– [Loren Voiceover] Mars maybe cold, but it can definitely get hot inside a confined suit.

In order to control temperature, astronauts use a full bodyliquid cooling garment.

This garment containstubing that circulates cold water, removing heat from the skin.

It's something astronauts already use when they do their spacewalks.

As you can imagine, it'sslightly uncomfortable but will prevent you from overheating.

I won't be wearing thistoday, but I will need to change my clothesbefore I get suited up.

All right.

Suit me up.

(laughs)- All right.

– [Loren Voiceover] Thereare some restrictions when it comes to filming someonegetting into a spacesuit.

We weren't allowed to filmme actually putting it on because of some international regulations.

I didn't really mind, becausegetting into such a bulky suit isn't exactly the mostgraceful experience.

Clearly this is a three/fourperson job.

(laughs) I'm assuming it's gonna benot fun on Mars, either.

Just doing it on Earthis a bit of a chore.

The first thing you feel is howheavy and restricting it is.

It's about 30 pounds here on Earth that you're mostlycarrying on your shoulders.

Fortunately, Mars has one-thirdof the gravity of Earth, so the suit would feelslightly lighter over there.

Plus, it didn't fit me exactly right, so my fingers didn'tquite reach all the way in the gloves, and thenthey pressurized it, which made things even more difficult.

– You ready?- I'm ready.

(air pressurizing)Woo! Oh, ears are definitely popping.

How does anyone move in this at all? (laughs) Being in a bag of Earth's atmosphere feels a bit like walkingin a giant balloon.

I was getting a workout just trying to keep my arms where I wanted them.

It proved challenging when it came to performing simple tasks.

Oh, yeah! (laughs)- There you go.

OK, you got it.

– Yeah, that was a piece of cake.

(laughs) It's very clear that roaming around Mars won't be as easy asgoing for a simple walk, but all of this discomfort is just a necessary byproduct ofkeeping astronauts alive, and it's quite an engineering feat that I was able to perform tasks in a suit that's designed to protect me from an alien environment like Mars.

– And you are out.

– Oh, my goodness.

– You survived.

OK, we'll get you outof the suit, all right? – Let's just say Mars will not be comfortable.

(laughs) After breaking out of the Mars suit and wiping off the sweat, I was ready to head to my next location, the moon.

Well, sort of.

We tried on the Martian spacesuit, which was intense, sowe've come to a much easier environment, the lunar surface, which is only one-sixththe Earth's gravity.

Basically, I'm going to start my day on the moon in the lunar habitat, make my way throughthis tube to the rover, and then dive into thissuit and go for a moonwalk.

The cool thing about this isthat this is the only place that you can go from habitat to a rover to a suit and then boots on the ground in one, seamless system, so the fact that we can try this outtoday is pretty cool.

Here we are in the habitat, and you've got your basics.

You know, place tosleep, a fridge, kitchen, but right now, I need to leavethe hab and go to my rover.

It's a bit like Discovery Zone.

(soft energetic music) All right, now we are in the rover.

(laughs) But I'm not driving today.

I need to get in my suit.


– There you go.

Let me know when you reachthe end of the boots.

– [Loren Voiceover] I neededa bit of help to get my legs into place, and then I was ready to pull the release and have a bit of fun.

– No, just one, there you go.

– Woo! – And there you are.

– Step down.

– Step down.

(laughs) All right.

– All right.

Frolicking in the lunar suitwas a bit easier at first.

It was a training suit, so it weighed less and I wasn't fully pressurized.

Also, this suit wasslightly more spacious, making it easier to grip and maneuver.

But after a while, itstill got incredibly hot, and doing sprints tired me out.

It's time for a nap.

(laughs) I have a new respect for peoplewho go to space now, oof.

My main takeaway from all of this, designing a spacesuit means thinking about thousands of different problems that don't immediately come to mind, and floating around theoutside of the station requires a completelydifferent type of suit than one for a Mars expedition, or one for a lunar base.

Plus, a suit that can keep people alive in these extreme environments isn't exactly the easiest thing to work in.

To be fair, I had Earth's atmosphere and gravity working against me, but it's clear I need a lot more training before I can work forhours in a spacesuit.

Hey, everyone, this video waspart of my series, Spacecraft, which you may have already seen on our other YouTube channel, the Verge, but we thought you mightlike to see it here.

However, you should besubscribed to both channels 'cause we have someexciting spacecraft news coming out soon, stay tuned.