NASA and Axiom Space just showed off the latest iteration of the spacesuit astronauts will wear on the surface of the moon when the Artemis III mission takes the first Americans to visit it since 1972. Improved in every way over the classic EVA suits of the Apollo era, the new Axiom Exploration Extravehicular Mobility Unit or AxEMU will make bunny hopping on the lunar surface much, much easier.
The AxEMU is a near-final version of the xEMU suit we've seen peeks of over the last few years of its development. The process worked much like other NASA-led efforts, in which the agency dictated the specs and helped create prototypes, but then contracted with a private company to actually build the things.
In this case the xEMU was first discussed publicly in late 2019, at which point they had a working version ready to be refined and put into production. They chose Axiom Space as their partner for that, and over the last couple years the company has done a few nips and tucks and came up with what we saw today.
First of all, though, why is it black? A silly question — obviously it's because this suit will be used on the dark side of the moon.
Just kidding. Actually the suit will be white when it's in use on Artemis III (scheduled for 2025, but we'll see), the better to reflect the strong sunlight on the lunar surface. Today it's black for... no particular reason, it seems. Honestly, it's probably because it looks cooler and shows off the Axiom logo better. Let's hope that's not quite so prominent on the mission — we don't need our astronauts on the moon looking like NASCAR drivers.
This suit is for extended hard vacuum and hazardous environments, but astronauts won't be wearing it all the time. There's another suit for in-vehicle work that can be quickly sealed in case of depressurization. You can see the early NASA-built prototypes in use here. Materials and engineering have come a long way since the Apollo era and the new suits will be lighter, safer and more comfortable. Even kids like it:
Image Credits: Axiom Space
Here's the division of labor on the AxEMU, in case you're worried that a private company might cut corners:
Axiom Space is responsible for the design, development, qualification, certification, and production of flight training spacesuits and support equipment, including tools, to enable the Artemis III mission. The company will test the suit in a spacelike environment prior to the mission. NASA maintains the authority for astronaut training, mission planning, and approval of the service systems.
Another company, Collins Aerospace, is working on an improved EVA suit for use on the ISS and future space stations. That's a very different use case, so it makes sense to divide and conquer. And of course Boeing and SpaceX have their own escape suits and the like as well. Sadly I understand you have to give them back after taking a flight, so even the most experienced astronaut won't build up a closet full.