In December, NASA unveiled its Z-1 prototype spacesuit designed to deliver improved flexibility and protection to spacewalking astronauts. But the first comment made by those who wear it probably won't be about the upgrades. They're more likely to say something like this: "I look like Buzz Lightyear!"
The Z-1 has become a hot topic in the space community most notably for its stylization. Its white exterior with neon-green accents liken it to the outfit of the intrepid space ranger from the "Toy Story" trilogy, Buzz Lightyear. One can only speculate as to why the fictional action figure was chosen as a model for the Z-1. Hopefully, by referencing a popular character from the Disney lexicon, NASA will attract the attention of youth everywhere and generate interest in the space program.
The demand for an enhanced spacesuit comes at a time when mankind is closer than ever to interplanetary travel. After rigorous testing, specialists at NASA's Johnson Space Center announced that they had a prototype suit that was more capable than the Extravehicular Mobility Unit of withstanding prolonged exposure to the perils of microgravity space and planetary surfaces.
Some of the innovative features of the Z-1 include bearing-equipped joints for increased flexibility, a portable life support system that continuously removes carbon dioxide from breathing air, and a rear entry hatch that allows astronauts to enter the suit as if it were a spacecraft. Adjacent to the entry hatch is a suit port plate that enables the suit to be docked to a spacecraft or rover. And if the suit's resemblance to Buzz Lightyear's getup remains unclear, one need only look at the attached bubble helmet meant to provide a more expansive field of view.
Subsequent prototypes are under development by NASA in the hopes of completing a suit for use aboard the International Space Station by 2017.