Kristine Davis and Dustin Gohmert wear prototype spacesuits unveiled Tuesday, which are designed for NASA's return to the moon and exploration of Mars, Photo courtesy Joel Kowsky/NASA/UPI
Oct. 16 (UPI) -- As part of its plan to return astronauts to the moon in the coming years, NASA has unveiled two prototype spacesuits it says have greatly improved on the suits worn by the men of the Apollo program who walked on the lunar surface decades ago.
The space administration unveiled suits Tuesday that are designed for the Artemis program, which aims to make the United States' return to the moon as early as 2024. The suits are also expected to fill a role in NASA's planned exploration of Mars.
NASA said one of the suits -- the Exploration Extravehicular Mobility Unit, or xEMU -- will be worn by the first female astronaut on the moon. The other, the Orion Survival System suit, is designed to provide astronauts an extra layer of protection on Artemis' lunar missions.
"The xEMU suit improves on the suits previously worn on the moon during the Apollo era and those currently in use for spacewalks outside the International Space Station," the agency said in a statement.
"The Orion suit is designed for a custom fit and incorporates safety technology and mobility features that will help protect astronauts on launch day, in emergency situations, high-risk parts of missions near the moon, and during the high-speed return to Earth."
The xEMU features added protection from something astronauts learned during the Apollo missions of the late 1960s and early 1970s -- the fine, glass-like dust on the moon has a tendency to infiltrate life support systems. NASA said the new suit can also guard astronauts from extreme lunar cold -- which can be as frigid as 250 degrees below zero when shielded from the sun.
NASA said an improved feature of the Orion suit is it can keep astronauts alive for nearly a week if spacecraft cabin pressure fails, allowing crews a window to return to Earth in an emergency.
The last NASA crew to land on the moon, Apollo 17, left the lunar surface nearly a half-century ago. Between 1969 and 1972, six missions set down on the moon -- a feat that has not been duplicated by the United States or any other nation since.