WILMINGTON, Del. -- Most of us will never make it to outer space, but now everyone has a chance to help decide the style of something that will.
NASA has launched an online contest where mere Earthlings can vote — until April 15 — for one of three spacesuit cover layer designs. Click here to vote.
The cover layers are fashion statements from the Philadelphia University School of Design and Engineering, spacesuit vendor ILC Dover and the firm's operation in Houston, Texas.
The three designs are called: "Biomimicry," "Technology" and "Trends in Society."
"Space is cool. Shouldn't spacesuits be?" quipped NASA's Amy J. Ross, the lead for advanced pressure garment development. "So far the 'Technology' design is winning by a good margin over the other two."
The Biomimicry cover layer design.
The spacesuit worn on the International Space Station has an environmental protection piece called the Thermal/Micrometeoroid Garment. The white of the spacesuit is a part of the thermal protection, Ross said.
The Z-2 will not be tested in a thermal chamber, she said, "so it just needed a cover layer to protect it from abrasions, giving NASA a little freedom to be creative."
Beneath the cover layer is the Z-2 spacesuit — NASA's newest prototype after the Buzz Lightyear-esque Z-1.
Each of the Z suits is a stepping stone to Mars, said Philip Spampinato, program manager at ILC Dover.
ILC, known for developing the airbag system for the Mars Rover and safety equipment for homeland security, has been with NASA from its earliest days of spacewalking activities, he said.
The Trends in Society cover layer design.
The Z-2 prototype pressure garment is part of NASA's effort to build a spacesuit that integrates new technologies for future missions, Ross said. It will be tested in a so-called human-rated vacuum next year.
"It is the first time since the Space Shuttle spacesuit was developed that we've tested a new EVA suit in a human-rated vacuum chamber -- this is a major milestone," Ross said. "It is another step toward sending humans outward and eventually to Mars, which is what a lot of us are hoping to see."
"With thousands of hours of use, none of our hardware has ever interrupted a mission. That stands from the late '60s. We've got 50 years of good performance with NASA, and that counts, and it comes from people who take this personally," said Spampinato.