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NASA looks to Toy Story in an effort to design better spacesuits

NASA engineers are looking to Toy Story as part of an effort to better design its next generation of spacesuits.

The U.S.-based space agency’s latest spacesuit prototype is raising eyebrows for its similarities to the Buzz Lightyear setup.

The newly designed spacesuit — which comes set with neon green accents — is designed with astronauts in mind. According to NASA engineers, the suit employs the latest technology and tricks of the trade. One of the most advantageous additions is the rear-entry hatch, which lets an astronaut put on the suit from the back, completing the process by closing the rear hatch.

“One of the big differences is the rear-entry design,” Amy Ross, one of the engineers responsible for the suit’s development, said during a NASA video interview. “So the shuttle EMU splits at the waist and you put pants on and you put the top on separately and they connect in the middle. Whereas with this suit, the subject crawls in through the back, and then we just shut the door.”

The spacesuit, which remains in testing, is dubbed the Z-1. According to NASA, astronauts traveling to Mars will likely rely on a similar design. On the rear will be a giant backpack which doubles as a hatch that can latch onto another space ship or Rover-like vehicle. In addition, the “rear entry” design will likely reduce the number of injuries sustained by astronauts, said Ross.

“It’s like you’re trying to go on vacation, but you don’t know if you’re going to Antarctica, Miami, or Buckingham Palace,” Ross noted. “We’re building a lot of tools for the toolbox. Right now we’re asked to be very flexible.”

“We think it’s less prone to injury,” Ross continued, “especially shoulder injury which can occur with the shuttle EMU-donning method.”

While the spacesuit is seen as the latest example of NASA’s advanced technology, the agency has struggled to implement significant changes to its spacesuits. The space agency has not made any change since 1992, when human space exploration was limited mostly to trips aboard the International Space Station (ISS) and the Space Shuttle.

Simultaneously, NASA is preparing a new life-support backpack known as the PLSS 2.0. While current models are highly susceptible to contamination, the PLSS 2.0 will be much more durable and able to hold a larger amount of air, allowing astronauts to embark on significantly longer spacewalks.

While the Z-1 remains in testing, NASA says it will continue to improve on the design. Although the Z-1 and the PLSS 2.0 are not ready to be joined into one prototype yet, eventually they could combine to create an even more efficient space-traversing suit. According to the space agency, the final design will be approved in 2015.

“We’re looking to replace those capabilities with a Rapid Cycle Amine swingbed,” NASA’s PLSS engineer Carly Watts said in an internal NASA newsletter. “Every few minutes it will cycle and regenerate itself to remove CO2 real time during a spacewalk, so CO2 removal capability will no longer be a consumable.”