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Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

As NASA pushes back to the Moon, the space agency faces a major engineering challenge: building a new spacesuit in time for the 2024 deadline.

The big picture: Spacesuits are arguably an astronaut's most important tool in space. The suits are designed for a particular mission and tailored to a specific astronaut to allow him or her to work safely in a vacuum.

Details: For the Artemis mission to the Moon, NASA astronauts must have the flexibility to bend down, examine rocks and collect samples — all in one-sixth the gravity on Earth.

  • While those tasks don't sound particularly difficult, they are when contending with the bulky mass of a spacesuit that effectively acts as a human-shaped spacecraft.
  • "We want you to not have to think about the suit at all," NASA spacesuit engineer Lindsay Aitchison told Axios. "Anything you do just feels like working in your regular shirtsleeves."
  • Aitchison and the other NASA engineers working on the suit are also looking at new ways of building spacesuit parts — through 3D printing and other technologies — to make the suits more lightweight and maneuverable.

Where it stands: NASA's new suits have been in development for some time and will need to fit a variety of different bodies, as the agency aims to send the first woman to the Moon.

  • NASA plans to test parts of the new suit as early as next year on the International Space Station.
  • According to NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine, the spacesuits in development will also be used in low-Earth orbit (LEO) and on the Moon, presenting interesting design and engineering challenges for those building it.

“The requirements of Moon suits are more challenging than LEO alone, but the suit we use on the Moon will also meet the needs of the International Space Station with very little, if any, modifications,” Aitchison said.

Between the lines: Building a spacesuit takes hundreds of millions of dollars of investment.

  • The agency will likely need an influx of cash for the Artemis program if it wants to get the suit done and in testing any earlier than 2023, according to Bridenstine. That money would afford them wiggle room in the schedule if issues pop up.

The bottom line: NASA needs a new spacesuit for its next mission, but it's unclear if the agency will have the Congressional support it needs to deliver the suit well ahead of the 2024 deadline.

Go deeper

Updated 3 hours ago - Sports

The potential GOAT of chess faces intriguing challenger

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The World Chess Championship between Norway's Magnus Carlsen and Russia's Ian Nepomniachtchi began on Friday, 1,094 days after Carlsen won his fourth consecutive title.

Why it matters: During the long, COVID-fueled layoff, chess entered a new era, and with the championship finally here, the age-old game is ready for its close-up.

Department of Interior proposes raising cost of drilling on public lands

A horizontal drilling rig and a pump jack sit on federal land in Lea County, New Mexico. Photo: Callaghan O'Hare/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Oil and gas companies should pay more to drill on federal lands and waters, the Department of the Interior argued in a report released Friday, saying that the current rates were "outdated."

Driving the news: The Department of Interior report said that the federal government's oil and gas leasing and permitting program "fails to provide a fair return to taxpayers, even before factoring in the resulting climate-related costs that must be borne by taxpayers."

4 hours ago - Health

U.S. to restrict air travel from 8 countries over new COVID variant concerns

A COVID-19 vaccine is administered. Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

The U.S. will impose new air travel restrictions in response to the Omicron variant, a new COVID strain first detected in South Africa, President Biden announced Friday.

The big picture: Air travel from South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique and Malawi will be restricted starting on Monday.