When astronauts venture outside of a spaceship or the International Space Station, they must wear protective space suits to keep them safe from the harsh environment of space. While inside these pressurized suits, it's essential that they remain in constant communication with the rest of the crew in space as well as Mission Control Center on Earth. While wearing the current space suits, astronauts wear a Communications Carrier Assembly (CCA), or "Snoopy Cap" a fabric hat fitted with microphones in the ear area for listening and boom microphones in front of the mouth for speaking. These caps are worn under the helmet and visor that surround an astronaut's head.
NASA is in the process of completely redesigning their space suits, with the goal of creating a brand new space suit to be used starting in 2020. Redesigned and reinvented communications equipment will be an important facet of the new suit. NASA's Glenn Research Center in Cleveland is working on different parts of the new space suit, including communications equipment. The Exploration Technology Development Program (ETDP) is involved with testing various proposed solutions to the communications requirements within the suit. The Communications Carrier Assembly (CCA), while effective, has some logistical drawbacks.
Multiple cap sizes must be available due to the difference in astronauts' head sizes. The caps cannot be adjusted once the visor of the helmet is in place and the astronaut is in space, which means that if the microphones shift, communication quality can decrease. The boom microphones can also interfere with feeding and drinking mechanisms during long-duration spacewalks. An additional problem is that astronaut sweat can negatively interfere with the performance of the electrical and mechanical parts in the CCA. For several years, Glenn has performed research and development on a variety of communications technologies. About six years ago, teams at Glenn began working on integrated audio solutions to support extravehicular activities, like space walks.