The "Tron" fans have it: NASA says the winning design for its Z-2 prototype spacesuit cover will sport glowing blue panels that evoke the suits from the classic video-game movie.
The design, known formally as the "Technology" option, will be incorporated into a Z-2 suit that should be ready for testing at NASA's Johnson Space Center in November.
The Z-2 follows up on a Buzz Lightyearish design known as the Z-1. It's supposed to help NASA and its suit-making partner, ILC Dover, blaze a trail for the next-generation spacesuits that just might be worn on Mars.
The "Technology" suit pays homage to spacesuit achievements (and video-game movies) of the past while incorporating subtle elements of the future. By using Luminex wire and light-emitting patches, this design puts a new spin on spacewalking standards such as ways to identify crew members.
The "Technology" look competed with two other designs with electroluminescent features. One had an abstract pattern of electroluminescent wires spread over the spacesuit cover ("Biomimicry"), while the other featured a swoopy sportswear pattern ("Trends in Society"). All three designs were developed with the aid of students from Philadelphia University.
NASA put the final design choice to an Internet vote. The "Technology" look won out with 147,354 votes, or 63.1 percent of the total, NASA spokesman Dan Huot told NBC News. "Biomimicry" came in second with 22.7 percent, and "Trends in Society" took in 14.1 percent.
"The Tron suit wins!" said the first Twitter user to comment on NASA's announcement of the voting results. "I liked it better when the future looked like the '60s and not a bad '90s PC game," another commenter cracked.
Huot said the designers didn't intend to evoke "Tron," but he's fine with the video-game comparisons.
"We're always going to find those parallels between science fiction and reality," he said. "I'm all for it."
The prototype design won't be used for the suits that actually go to space, let alone to Mars. NASA says the real-life spacesuit covers will have to be durable enough to stand up to radiation exposure, temperature swings and micrometeoroid impacts. The "Tron" spacesuit cover as currently configured wouldn't fit those requirements.
However, ILC Dover designer Jinny Ferl said the final design may well incorporate wearable displays that light up, just like the "Tron" design. So don't ease up on the pressure, video-game fans. As Jeff Bridges' character said back in 1983, "Now for some real User power."
First published April 30 2014, 1:39 PM