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Sandra “Sandy” Magnus, a flight-tested former astronaut, let NASA know that they have a big problem during an official meeting of spaceflight safety experts in Houston, Texas, on Friday.
NASA’s Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel (ASAP), an independent group who was represented by Magnus, held its quarterly meeting at Johnson Space Center. ASAP is tasked with “evaluating NASA’s safety performance and advising the Agency on ways to improve that performance.”
NASA is racing to send people back to the moon, ideally landing the first woman and next man on the lunar surface in 2024, with its new Artemis program. (The last time anyone visited the moon was December 1972.) Naturally, ASAP had a lot to say about NASA’s ambitious new effort.
Magnus, who flew to the International Space Station (ISS) twice and spent more than five months in orbit, knows what it takes to make safety a priority.
“An integral system required to put boots on the moon are the boots,” Magnus said.
She added that spacesuits are essentially “one-person spaceships” that deserve similar levels of funding and scrutiny.
“They’re complex and they have stringent safety requirements, and are a critical component of not only the lunar program, but actually any potential exploration path that human spaceflight may engage upon in the future,” Magnus said.
NASA’s only operational EVA spacesuits are off planet aboard the ISS. They’re each about 40 years old and are showing signs of their age. Though it is astounding that they have lasted this long. The technology works, but it’s very outdated.
The panel previously reported that NASA is struggling to upgrade the suits, let alone maintain them.
“The problem does not lie simply in the fact that the suits are old; the fact that manufacturers of several critical suit components, including the very fabric of the suits, have now gone out of business,” ASAP wrote in April.