NASA Spacewalking Suits in Short Supply, Report Finds

The suits were developed more than 40 years ago and intended for 15 years.

A new report finds that NASA's spacewalking suits are in short supply.

But a lack of a formal plan has complicated suit development, according to the report by Nasa's Office of the Inspector General.

NASA may be running out of spacesuits.

Among other concerns raised by the report, just 11 of the original 18 life-support backpacks which keep astronauts alive in the vacuum of space, still work.

The report said NASA "concurred with our recommendations and described its corrective actions", and that the matter would be considered resolved once the actions were verified. "As of April 2017, none of these efforts have delivered a flight-ready spacesuit".

Of the original EMUs produced, NASA now has only 11 left for future operations. Some design problems have been experienced by NASA with these Extravehicular Mobility Units, or EMUs, in recent years.

"The EMU was originally created to be brought into space, used several times, and brought home for maintenance and refurbishment", the OIG wrote in its report. "However, the retirement of the Shuttle Program required a new maintenance program now, the spacesuits are operating in a different environment onboard the ISS with longer periods between refurbishment and some maintenance tasks performed on-orbit".

The ASSP was redirected to a spacesuit design known as Exploration EMU, or xEMU, which will be tested on the ISS, but not until 2023.

Significant reported EMU incidents by decade. Well, in 2009, Oceaneering International, Inc received a contract worth $148 million for spacesuits for the astronauts.

NASA has spent $135.6 million on suits that could be worn on the Moon, but that program, called Constellation, was cancelled during the Barack Obama administration.

CSSS contract costs versus Advanced Space Suit project costs.

"Despite spending almost $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.

"Although NASA is moving toward procurement of a flight-ready article for testing, schedule margins do not allow for much, if any, delay in delivery", the report warned.

The audit urged NASA to come up with a "formal plan for design, production, and testing" that aligns with the goals of the United States space agency, crew needs, and the planned retirement of the ISS in 2024.

In the audit, Inspector General Paul Martin and his team examined "NASA's efforts to maintain its existing spacesuits and its plans for and progress in developing its next-generation spacesuits".

In a written response to the inspector general, NASA's chief of human spaceflight William Gerstenmaier argued that the report is "overly critical" of the agency's decision and that "we respectfully disagree that the facts presented to the OIG support that portion of the report".

  • Carolyn Briggs