NASA, however, continued paying Constellation suit contractor Oceaneering International to develop some technologies for five more years, the watchdog agency said.
“Rather than terminate the contract, NASA paid the contractor $80.8 million between 2011 and 2016 for spacesuit technology development, despite parallel development activities being conducted within NASA’s Advanced Exploration Systems Division,” Martin wrote.
The audit found that NASA has spent $135.6 million on the Constellation spacesuit and another $51.6 million on a follow-on program known as the Advanced Space Suit Project.
“Despite this investment, the agency remains years away from having a flight-ready spacesuit” that could replace the current equipment, the report said.
RELATED: Hibernation for Deep Space Exploration Could Happen Sooner Than You Imagined
The spacesuits are effectively miniature, one-person spaceships that keep an astronaut alive in the vacuum and temperature extremes of space, while having enough flexibility and durability so that spacewalking crew can fix equipment, dig, and perform other mission-critical activities. The agency’s efforts have been complicated because it does not yet have a firm plan in place for where spacewalking astronauts will be needed and when they would arrive.
NASA’s next-generation spacewalk suit is being developed in three stages. The first iteration is designed for use on the space station; the second for missions around the moon, a region known as cislunar; and the third for use on Mars.
“Without specific mission criteria, engineers must make assumptions about system requirements for future missions,” the report noted. “For example, spacesuit requirements vary for EVAs in cislunar space, on Mars, or on the Martian moon Phobos, as each destination has different temperatures, radiation levels, pressures, mobility requirements, and exposure to dust and debris.”
The Inspector General urged NASA to develop and implement a formal plan for designing, producing, and testing next-generation spacesuits, and called for it to conduct a study to determine if maintaining the current EVA spacesuit is less expensive than developing and testing a new one.
In a written response to Martin, NASA called the audit a “fair assessment,” though the agency took issue with the contention that it should have canceled the Oceaneering contract.
NASA associate administrator William Gerstenmaier said that he accepts the auditor’s recommendations. He pledged to issue a report about improving the agency’s spacesuit development initiatives by September 30.
WATCH: How Do Spacesuits Keep Astronauts Safe From the Vacuum of Space?