As far as I've been able to find (please correct me if I am wrong!), there is no current technology that would permit an EVA suit that is being worn to be sterilized without risk of damage to the suit or the astronaut. For example, infrared could be used, but would be at risk of damaging the suit after repeated exposures, and could damage the astronaut if the helmet did not block the IR sufficiently. This would be for situations such as when the astronaut is preparing to go out onto a planet surface, so doing a wipe-down in a clean room is not a practical solution.

Is there any process that is currently being developed, that is known about but not currently possible, or that is likely to be discovered, which could allow the exterior of an EVA suit to be sterilized immediately prior to an EVA?

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    $\begingroup$ Obligatory xkcd: xkcd.com/1161 $\endgroup$ – SE - stop firing the good guys Mar 18 '16 at 7:13
  • $\begingroup$ @TidalWave - I absolutely agree, but in this case, I'm basically critiquing something designed by someone else (aka hacking The Martian) so I don't get to pick a more practical option. $\endgroup$ – Kaine Mar 19 '16 at 15:57
  • $\begingroup$ @Hohmannfan LOL. I'd forgotten that one, thanks for a useful and relevant reminder!. $\endgroup$ – Kaine Mar 19 '16 at 15:58
  • $\begingroup$ @TidalWave The video on the cryogenically selectively surfaces was fascinating and I can see applications where it would be very useful in what I'm doing, but I'm not clear on how it would help sterilization. $\endgroup$ – Kaine Mar 19 '16 at 17:16

Vacuum is a harsh environment, so having the suit exposed to it should get rid of most bacteria. It is not a bulletproof method though, as confirmed by a famous case.

Another good opportunity is to use UV sterilization, which offers to kill at least a good chunk of the bacteria. This can not possibly harm the suit, as they are designed to withstand sunlight, which is not filtered for ultra violet radiation in space.

Space suits are also by design tolerant to huge temperature differences, which can be helpful as a typical bacteria would not be tolerant to both temperature extremes. Combines with other methods, this can provide a little extra safety.

Micro organisms are though, and even clean-room sterilizing of probes is known to fail at complete sterilization. With more primitive methods in the field, there would always be a risk of contamination. A possible solution to that is to never have the external part of the space suit in touch with the habitat environment in the first place, and simply have it connected to an airlock:

external suit

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  • $\begingroup$ Sorry for not responding earlier; I'd have sworn I left a comment already! I agree that the 'External suits' would be preferable, but I'm working on a 'minimal change' adaption/critique to The Martian, so going with the exterior suit isn't an option. Thank you for yor suggestions! $\endgroup$ – Kaine Mar 20 '16 at 23:06

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