Oceaneering International Inc., best known for providing deep water services and products to the oil and gas industry, has been chosen to design and make the next generation of spacesuits for NASA, the space agency announced Thursday.
The Houston-based company beat out Exploration Systems & Technology, a jointly owned company between ILC and Hamilton Sundstrand.
Hamilton Sundstrand, a subsidiary of United Technologies, had been the primary contractor for NASA spacesuits since the 1960s.
"Our team is excited about this tremendous opportunity to assist NASA in pushing the boundaries of space exploration," said Mark Gittleman, vice president and general manager of Oceaneering Space Systems. "We have a world-class team of companies and individuals who are all committed to NASA and the Vision for Space Exploration. We have been working together with NASA for some time and are fully prepared to meet all of the requirements for the program."
The spacesuit, called an EVA (Extra Vehicular Activity) suit by NASA, is being developed to protect astronauts during voyages to the international space station and, later to the surface of the moon, to which the space agency hopes to return by 2020.
The $745 million contract has three phases and calls for a total of 109 suits, 24 of which will be the lunar suits.
"We haven't developed an EVA suit in many years, since the late '70s," said Doug Cooke, a deputy associate administrator for NASA.
NASA expects Oceaneering to have the first new suits ready to support the debut flight of the Orion crew vehicle with astronauts aboard in 2015. One type of spacesuit, known as "Configuration One," would be worn by Orion's astronauts and be used for emergency spacewalks. Another type, "Configuration Two," would be worn by astronauts working on the lunar surface.
The new suits will be much more mobile than the ones that astronauts used to hop about the moon in the 1960s, said spacesuit project manager Glenn Lutz. The Apollo astronauts had to hop about, or lope, in a strange gait, because of the weight proportion and lack of bearings in the suit, he said.
The new spacesuit will have more bearings, designed for better walking mobility, he said. The 2020 astronauts will be able to amble the moon "just like walking across the desert floor to look at your favorite rock," Lutz said.
Partnering with Oceaneering are Air-Lock of Milford, Conn.; David Clark Co. of Worcester, Mass.; Cimarron Software Services of Houston; Harris Corp. of Palm Bay, Fla., Honeywell International of Glendale, Ariz.; Paragon Space Development Corp. of Tucson, Arizona; and United Space Alliance of Houston.
Hamilton Sundstrand spokesman Dan Coulom said the company was disappointed by NASA's choice.
"We believe we submitted a competitive package from both a cost and technical standpoint," he said. "Hamilton Sundstrand will continue to work very closely with NASA on the One-EVA contract and on other programs to support America's space program."
This report was supplemented by information from Reuters and msnbc.com.