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This is how NASA tests its spacesuits

Engineers and technicians at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston tested the spacesuits astronauts will wear in the agency’s Orion spacecraft on trips to deep space, March 17, 2015.

NASA-Bill Stafford

When astronauts eventually get to Mars, they will need the right outfits.

Engineers and technicians at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston are currently testing the spacesuits that astronauts will wear in the agency's Orion spacecraft on trips to deep space. The Orion mission will carry astronauts further into space than they've ever been before, possibly to an asteroid, and one day to Mars.

In the photo above, taken March 17, members of the Johnson team completed a so-called Vacuum Pressure Integrated Suit Test to verify that the suit will meet the standards required to be worn aboard the Orion spacecraft, which was built to carry astronauts to deep space and back.

During the test, which was the first of four, the engineers suited up and entered an 11-foot chamber designed to simulate the vacuum environment experienced in the spacecraft. The suit was connected to life support systems and then the air was sucked out of the chamber.

The suit is a version of the launch and entry suits already worn by space shuttle astronauts, and will contain all the necessary functions to support life in the unlikely event the spacecraft loses pressure. It will also enable astronauts to leave their spacecraft for spacewalks.

In the most serious known incident ever encountered during a NASA spacewalk, on July 16, 2013, European Space Agency astronaut Luca Parmitano's helmet flooded with water, a near-fatal mishap. An investigation followed, which blamed the leak on a complex combination of factors that included a misunderstanding of the subtleties of the suit's operation in weightlessness.

In February, NASA astronaut Terry Virts returned from the second of three spacewalks with a small amount of water in his helmet. NASA had already delayed the start of the spacewalk to complete troubleshooting to ensure that the suits were in full working order.

NASA plans to send astronauts to Mars aboard the Orion spacecraft in the 2030s.

  • Amanda Schupak

    Amanda Schupak is the science and technology editor at CBSNews.com