The original “moon suits” were tested here in the 1960s
(Update: Added video and comments from NASA administrator)
BEND, Ore. (KTVZ) — NASA recently tested new spacesuits designed to return to the Moon and explore Mars in the future at a number of natural sites in special areas around and near central Oregon.
Dr. Pascal Lee, NASA’s Haughton-Mars project manager, led the testing effort in Oregon late last month.
“We thought this was really convenient, because we have a spacesuit to test, and we’re going back to the moon, so we came to Oregon,” he told me Monday.
I’m back, that is.
Apollo astronauts trained and tested their spacesuits in Oregon during the 1960s because the volcanic landscape is very similar to the moon.
He said they haven’t come back to Oregon to see how useful it is, just yet.
“We were amazed by the quality of all of them,” he told me.
A crew of about 10 people came to Oregon to test the new suits at some of those same locations, which include Lava Butte, Big Obsidian Lava Flow, Fort Rock, Hole in the Ground and Yapoah Lava Flow at McKenzie Pass.
They also visited a number of new sites to prepare for NASA’s upcoming mission to the south polar highlands of the Moon – and eventually Mars.
New sites included the Pumice Slope in Crater Lake National Park, the Painted Hills at John Day Fossil Peads National Monument, Skylight Cave and Little Nash Crater.
“In case you didn’t know,” he told me, “Oregon has really nice analog positions for the Moon, and also for Mars.”
The reason they’re testing new locations like Starlight Cave is because for the first time ever, they’re testing spacesuits designed specifically for caves.
He told me they’re setting requirements for what future spacesuits might need to explore caves.
“We want–there are some other things I can’t really talk about, but it was fine,” he told me with a big smile.
Another change being tested in the new suits is the addition of electronics.
The suits are designed to display GPS maps, show heart rates, respond to voice commands, and assist with detailed image sampling. Just what you’d expect from a 21st century spacesuit.
He told me, “The things that will make spacewalks on the Moon and on Mars safer on the road. This kind of technology needs to be tested in a real-world field environment, which is why we came to Oregon.”
Lee hopes that the suits will be used on the lunar surface within the next decade, and said this was a promising first step.
“Details will be written into technical papers and magazines, but the result is that it works really well, and it works beautifully.” He said to me.
Lee said he could see astronauts exploring Mars by the mid-2030s, and he hopes to run more tests in Oregon before then.
“If you could only take astronauts to train in five places on Earth, Oregon would, in my view, be in the top five,” he told me.
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