If you stepped into the vacuum of space in whatever you’re wearing now, you actually might be okay. You won’t pass out. Your blood won’t boil, nor would it instantly freeze. (Our skin and circulatory systems actually hold in our gas and gunk pretty well.) So long as you make no attempts to hold your breath as the air exits your lungs, you might even enjoy the moment. But you’d only have about 30 seconds before you began sustaining long-lasting injuries. As NASA once explained:
Various minor problems (sunburn, possibly “the bends,” certainly some [mild, reversible, painless] swelling of skin and underlying tissue) start after ten seconds or so. At some point you lose consciousness from lack of oxygen. Injuries accumulate. After perhaps one or two minutes, you’re dying. The limits are not really known.
So in other words, while you could walk in space without a suit, you probably shouldn’t try. Which is precisely why NASA works so hard on refining its space suits.
The Z-1 is their latest, and it’s designed for planetary exploration, right down to the Buzz Lightyear paintjob.
Its innovations are largely in the flexible joints, fitted with bearings in the waist, hips, upper legs, and ankles (to make retrieving rock samples and running from alien species more feasible), along with all of the new materials found in the “heavily engineered” inner suit, which include urethane-coated nylon to retain air and polyester to help the suit hold its shape.
But the Z-1’s pièce de résistance is its inventive back port, which allows the suit to latch into a planetary rover as part of its outer shell. This port also means that astronauts can simply slide from the vehicle into the suit, getting dressed instantly before detaching and walking on the surface of another planet. Just as important, the suit is already perfectly pressurized, too, meaning that astronauts can avoid some of the deep-sea-diver-esque pressurization routines that make trips outside the ship such a hassle.
Sadly, the Z-1 won’t actually make its way into space. But as it’s polished into Z-2 and Z-3 forms, the new Z suit will eventually reach realization in 2017.