Nasa is running out of spacewalk suits and a replacement is still years away as per the space agency's inspector general who penned a detail report on the matter.
"Despite spending nearly $200m (£155m) on Nasa's next-generation spacesuit technologies, the agency remains years away from having a flight-ready spacesuit capable of replacing the Extravehicular Mobility Units (EMU) or suitable for use on future exploration missions," Nasa's Inspector General wrote in the report.
The matter poses a serious risk as the next-generation spacesuits — conceptually designed to be worn by astronauts for deep space missions — will not be ready before the International Space Station's (ISS) closure in 2024. In that case astronauts on board the ISS will have to use the ageing EMUs and an opportunity will be missed to test the new suits on board the station.
Many scientists and partners from parallel Nasa missions including the manned exploration to Mars have proposed an extension of the ISS till 2028. In that case the problem will be even more as only 11 of the 18 original EMUs are still functioning properly.
Things don't get easy on the financial side either as the agency has had to face budgetary cuts in funds dedicated to spacesuit development. Many of those funds have been diverted to other priorities such as in-space habitat development.
To tackle the existing crisis and prepare for the future, the inspector general has given three key recommendations:
- Chalk out and implement a formal plan for design, production, and testing of the next-generation spacesuits keeping in mind the exploration goals of the mission, crew needs, the ISS' retirement date
- Compare the cost of maintaining the current EMU spacesuit and develop a next-generation spacesuit
- Application of lessons learned from operations of existing spacesuits into the next-gen suits to ensure avoidance of non-life-threatening health risks or other injuries that could hamper future missions