Elon Musk unveils prototype for SpaceX astronaut suit with Crew Dragon capsule

Last month, Elon Musk sent out a teaser image of the slim new black-and-white spacesuit that will be used on the planned SpaceX mission to Mars. Today (Sept. 9) on Instagram, he shared a full-body picture of someone wearing the suit standing next to a prototype of the Crew Dragon capsule.

The new image of what a SpaceX astronaut might look like shows the design of the boots and gloves, as well as the padding on the pants. These pressure suits are meant to be worn by crew members while riding inside the Crew Dragon. Theyre not for spacewalks, but rather they're designed to keep the astronauts alive during an emergency situation, such as a rapid depressurization.

The sleek capsule itself, dubbed Dragon 2, looks very different than the more conventional Dragon 1 capsule thats currently in use delivering cargo to the International Space Station. In August, a Dragon 1 capsule successfully docked with the ISS, delivering a payload that included a Hewlett Packard Enterprises supercomputer planned for use on an eventual Mars mission.

When the capsule splashes down on Earth later this month with 3,000 pounds of cargo from the ISS, it will mark the last time a new Dragon 1 will be used for supply missions. From this point forward, SpaceX plans to fly only refurbished Dragons it has used previously for the NASA missions.

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In 2015, SpaceX received a $2.6 billion contract from NASA to carry astronauts to the ISS, and development of the new suits is an important step towards that goal. A demonstration mission is planned for February 2018, with another launch in June with two crew members aboard.

A whole new space race is brewing, however, with Boeings CST-100 Starliner also vying for the first commercial astronaut delivery to the ISS. Boeing unveiled its own design of snazzy blue spacesuits earlier this year, and they also have plans for the first Starliner test flights this summer.

The next few years will mark a new chapter in the history of space exploration, with private companies filling a role only previously held by government agencies. Whether the crew will be wearing white or blue on an eventual mission to the red planet remains to be seen, but space fans the world over are eagerly anticipating what comes next.