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NASA's New Spacesuit Program Is Way Off Course

Auditors at NASA say the agency is way behind schedule on its new spacesuits.
Posted at 7:35 PM, Apr 27, 2017

Over the last eight years, NASA has spent around $200 million trying to develop new spacesuits. But auditors report the agency isn't even close to having its next generation of suits ready.

But they need to be done relatively soon or they'll miss an important deadline: the retirement of the International Space Station in 2024. 

Testing the new suits aboard the ISS might be key to avoiding life-threatening technical difficulties on later deep-space missions.

All that money NASA has spent has been spread across three programs. But the auditors report that those programs don't have a clear road map right now.

The auditors are pretty critical of one contract in particular: suits being developed for the Constellation program. That contract was active until 2016 — even though the program was canceled in 2010.

Constellation was an ambitious program authorized under President George W. Bush. Among other things, it wanted to get humans back to the moon by 2020 and eventually establish a lunar outpost.

And the auditors are worried that the suit designed for NASA's Orion mission won't be ready in time, but that mission might not launch on time anyway, even if the suit is completed as scheduled. 

NASA has been using the same spacesuit design since the 1970s, but it's running out of those, too. Only four of those remain flight-ready with the other seven in various states of repair or testing.

The agency doesn't want to build more of those because they cost up to $250 million per suit to build, and they're not exactly deep-space ready.

One of NASA's main goals is to have humans visit Mars in the 2030s. But without updated spacesuits, that dream would be nearly impossible.