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Inspector general slams NASA spacesuit program

NASA's failed spacesuit
NASA’s failed spacesuit

A NASA inspector general report released today [pdf] bluntly slammed NASA endless and much delayed project to develop a new spacesuit for its Artemis program.

After noting that the project has been ongoing at NASA for fourteen years, the summary then blasts the program hard:

NASA’s current schedule is to produce the first two flight-ready xEMUs [NASA acronym for spacesuits] by November 2024, but the Agency faces significant challenges in meeting this goal. This schedule includes approximately a 20-month delay in delivery for the planned design, verification, and testing suit, two qualification suits, an ISS Demo suit, and two lunar flight suits. These delays—attributable to funding shortfalls, COVID-19 impacts, and technical challenges—have left no schedule margin for delivery of the two flight-ready xEMUs. Given the integration requirements, the suits would not be ready for flight until April 2025 at the earliest. Moreover, by the time two flight-ready xEMUs are available, NASA will have spent over a billion dollars on the development and assembly of its next-generation spacesuits.

Given these anticipated delays in spacesuit development, a lunar landing in late 2024 as NASA currently plans is not feasible. [emphasis mine]

This bears repeating: NASA will spent more than a billion dollars and fourteen years to build two spacesuits. What a bargain! Imagine if we have to pay a tailor for fitting!

And yet, despite this incredibly inefficient use of money, the report also finds that NASA doesn’t have enough to get the suits made on time!

Besides the endless managerial incompetencies noted in the report, it also notes several technical issues contributing to the problems, including one case where “staff used the wrong specifications” causing a unit’s failure.

Overall, the entire management of this program by NASA and the government appears to have been confused, incoherent, wasteful, and unable to get the job done, a pattern quite typical of almost every government project for the past four decades. Yet, though the report notes that in October 2019 the agency had finally decided to dump this failed program entirely and instead hire private companies to build the suits, the report criticizes this change, noting that the commercial contractors will not be required to use NASA designs, meaning the $420 million NASA has spent will literally be wasted.

So what? That money has been wasted already. I am quite willing to bet that for no more than a quarter of that cost, two private companies could get new spacesuits ready, and do it quickly, as long as our entirely incompetent government gets out of their way.

Conscious Choice cover

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  • Chris Lopes

    So 14 years and a billion dollars for 2 suits, not suit designs. One wonders if anyone at NASA is the least bit embarrassed about this. In the 1960’s they developed, tested and deployed 3 different suit designs in the course of 8 years. These people need to get out of the space business.

  • Mike Brogley

    You have likely seen Elon Musk’s reply at

    “SpaceX could do it if need be”

  • Kyle

    How are these people not in Jail?

  • MadRocketSci

    I guarantee you that a lot of the problem is there are plenty of cube-desks exchanging powerpoint, but nowhere to be found is an actual lab bench with sewing machines and (whatever they use to weave that semi-rigid pressure mesh) to do the actual building of the actual suit. Where do you think the technicians (if they exist outside of historical documentaries) that actually do the actual suit construction sit on the org chart? Are they even on center, or are they and their dirty physical tools squirreled away offsite in some sub-sub-subcontractor’s basement?

  • MadRocketSci … let’s not forget the supervisor who keeps count of the pins used to initially hold the suits together so they can be sewn … and will bring a pin left in a suit (a hazard were it to make it into space) to the attention of the offending seamster/seamstress, by placing it firmly on their posterior region.

  • MadRocketSci

    The old NASA EVA suits are actually extremely complex. There are a few different classes of suits in use: Flight suits – the sleek things you see the SpaceX pilots wearing, or the X-15 pilots: These aren’t actually supposed to keep you alive long-term in vacuum. They’re just there to maintain positive pressure in the event of a cabin depressurization at some finite altitude so that you can abort before losing consciousness.

    The EVA and lunar lander suits are far heavier – and they have to be designed to keep you alive while you’re being hit with what amounts to tiny super-hot rifle rounds. There is a lot of crud in orbit that can impinge on the suits – apparently there’s even a lot of micrometeor activity on the moon itself. The lunar dust is another big problem – no wind has ever smoothed it – it’s a lot of little microscopic glass shards that dig into everything. Also, in a vacuum, a non-rigid suit would blow up like a balloon with 14 psi of pressure causing the astronaut’s arms to starfish. In order to keep the ability to articulate the joints, they have to be made in such a way that there’s very little change in volume as the joint is flexed. A semi-rigid mesh of fiber material was used to keep the suit’s shape while the joints are bent. Gloves you can work in are apparently a very hard problem.


    The federal government does not want to solve problems. They want the keep power by redistributing our wealth. It is FAR past the time to put them back into their Constitutionally restricted box and end all of their madness and distruction. NASA was the one singular bright spot, and even they are gone now. Wake up America. It’s still not too late to take our country back.

  • Deplorable Dave Parsons

    NASA didn’t spend $1 billion. The report said only that they WILL spend $1 billion, if allowed to continue.
    So that’s some good news.

    But wait! There’s more! NASA has only spent the LOW LOW amount of $420 million on “development” of suits. Not actual suits. Just “development”. So we could say NASA has actually spent NOTHING on suits! Because there’s no suits! That’s a bargain.

  • Deplorable Dave Parsons: Yup, you’re right. I’ve changed the tense of my sentence to make it correct. What was correct was that NASA would spend $1 billion to build two suits, and according to the report, still needs more cash.

  • wayne

    tangential Tuesday two-fer:

    North By Northwest (1959)
    “That Planes Dusting Crops, Where There Ain’t No Crops…”

    Metallica –
    “I Disappear”

    “…ain’t no mercy there for me…”

  • BLSinSC

    If the EVERYDAY American knew the TRUTH about how much of their tax dollars are simply WASTED or mismanaged or STOLEN, we’d have a modern day Tea Party! NASA has always been an amazing entity to me! I was amazed as a child with the rockets and planes and then as a young person in 1969 when we went to the MOON and back! It was only after I became a TAX PAYING ADULT that I began to see the absolute WASTE of the money taken from my paychecks! SpaceX has shown that private enterprises get it done better, faster, and more financially efficient (hate to say cheaper here) than the Federal bureaucracies! But then what would we do with all those PEOPLE who have spent lifetimes pursuing perpetual stagnation? Maybe oblama had the right idea to cut spending at NASA and redirect it’s mission! NAH – should have just cut the spending!

  • Richard M

    Tom Mueller, former SpaceX propulsion chief, on Twitter just now: “I think we developed Falcon 9 and cargo Dragon for less than $1B.”

    He’s not wrong.

    I really don’t know what the cost of development of a lunar EVA suit suitable for Artemis should be now. But perhaps it is not unreasonable to think it ought to cost less than it cost SpaceX to develop a medium class orbital launcher and an orbital cargo ship for ISS.

  • Bill S

    NASA Ames designed a hard spacesuit in 1985. It was called the AX-5. It’s a high-pressure suit which allows for very quick egress to, and ingress from the vacuum of space as it operates at atmospheric pressure meaning that no time is required for decompression or recompression. It certainly offers micrometeoroid protection and is most likely easier to keep clean. I am sure it has other advantages, but the concept is lost in time (although it’s in the Smithsonian). I wonder if any of the $400+ NASA spent was spent considering this or any other hard suit design.

  • LTC SDS noted “It’s still not too late to take our country back.”

    I don’t want it back.

    There are Americans, and there are Feudalists, both regardless of the passport you travel under. Perhaps it’s time for the Americans to make a space for themselves, and let the Feudalists decay under their own weight.

  • pzatchok

    No one is saying they couldn’t build the suits.

    My questions are what designs have been finalized after billions and years?

    And exactly what has been assembled for final use? Arms legs helmets?

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