Staff members and students at the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), led by RISD professor Michael Lye, have designed a full-scale, wearable model of a space suit designed to be used on the first NASA Mars landing.

As Mercury News explains, real space suits are designed to work in zero gravity, so they’re too expensive and too heavy to use. The simulated space suits that are currently used are small, wear out quickly, aren’t comfortable and provide poor ventilation.

RISD’s improved version of such a suit is constructed with carbon fiber composite materials and two types of nylon. The suit weight about 45 pounds (135 pounds on Mars) and comes in 16 pieces. The components can be replaced or resized easily to fit whoever is wearing it. Andrzej Stewart, the chief engineering officer of the project, wore the suit for the first time last week and was pleased with the result.

“It’s great to finally be able to put on a full suit and be able to walk around, be able to move in it,” Stewart said. “It makes me feel a lot more like an astronaut.”

The new suit is expected to be tested during the next NASA-funded Mars simulation mission in 2017 in Hawaii. The suit will soon go to the Hawaii Space Exploration Analog and Simulation (HI-SEAS) mission at the University of Hawaii’s Manoa complex. Lessons learned will be applied to the actual suits that will be built for the first Mars exploration.

“What we’re aiming for is the best possible simulation, to inform NASA about what we learned on that simulation so they can succeed in the real thing,” said Sheyna Gifford, the mission’s chief medical and safety officer.

NASA is hoping to make its first trip to Mars in the 2030s. To learn more about the potential use of composites in Mars applications, click here.