Imagine yourself as an astronaut, strapped to the Dragon spacecraft, ready to blast off. Before you leave the planet, one of the most important things that will come to your mind is your spacesuit. Will it hold up just fine? After all, you can’t live in space without it. In fact, for astronauts, a spacesuit is a thin line between life and death.
The suit can protect you from extreme temperatures and provide a pressurized environment for your body. Because of its crucial role in survival, it’s been engineered by the brightest minds and thoroughly tested. You will not have to worry about it because it is super safe.
However, did you know that the concept of spacesuits takes inspiration from flight suits? Test pilots or fighter pilots use flight suits for very high-altitude flights. Nowadays, spacesuits have evolved drastically. You get to see some impressive technology that was only possible in sci-fi. If you are interested in more fascinating facts about spacesuits, stay tuned to this article!
1. The First Spacesuit in The World
The invention of spacesuits has come a long way. It has been through several experiments to get the most proper one. In 1961, the first spacesuit worn by humans was called The Soviet SK-1. Moreover, it was worn by Yuri Gagarin, a Soviet cosmonaut, the first human to travel to outer space.
Notable features of this spacesuit include a visored helmet which is not detachable from the suit. There is also the inflatable rubber collar for use in the event of a water landing and a bright orange nylon oversuit with a mirror sewn into the sleeve to locate switches and gauges.
Furthermore, this spacesuit also has leather-palm gloves, heavy leather boots, a radio headset, and the iconic gray-checked pressure liner with connectors for life support and communications hoses. The first space suit looks very different from what the Dragon’s crews were using recently.
2. NASA’s First Spacesuit
Spacesuits serve the simple purpose of keeping astronauts alive and safe in space, yet their design is highly complicated. Current space suits are used on the International Space Station (ISS). However, do you know that the National Aeronautics Space Agency (NASA) used other spacesuits in the past?
In fact, NASA’s first spacesuits were made for the Mercury program in 1962, not long after the Soviets cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin went to outer space.
In February 1962, NASA’s astronaut John Glenn lifted off into space aboard his Mercury-Atlas (MA-6) rocket and became the first American to orbit the earth. The Mercury program was also the first time NASA astronauts flew into space. Thus, the space race between the two superpowers of that time, the US and the Soviets began to intensify.
3. Super Heavy Spacewalk Suit
A spacewalk suit is incredibly heavy. It weighs about 280 lbs on the earth. Thanks to a lack of gravity in space, weightlessness makes spacesuits less problematic. However, it is still no easy task to maneuver in one.
Maybe you wonder, what makes space suits so heavy? To protect against intense radiation, extreme temperatures, and rapidly accelerating space dust, lightweight materials won’t be feasible in space. Therefore, thick layers and hard outer shells in spacesuits are essential to keep the astronauts safe.
4. More Than An Hour to Wear Spacesuits
Wearing a spacesuit is not similar to wearing a school uniform. In fact, an astronaut takes more than an hour to wear a spacesuit. Even with the help of a helper, spacesuits are not easy to put on. Putting on a spacesuit is called ‘donning’ while removing it is called ‘doffing.’
Donning a spacesuit is such a complicated undertaking. Remember that it weighs really heavy. It takes around 45 minutes to get dressed, even with several helpers guiding and strapping the astronaut. Once the spacewalk suit is on, astronauts still should wait about an hour before going outside of their ship to make adjustments to their bodies.
5. Special Orange Spacesuits
Maybe you are only familiar with the white one. But did you know that astronauts also wear orange spacesuits? It is called launch and entry suits. Astronauts wear these bright-colored suits during the launch and landing of the space shuttle.
In fact, the orange spacesuit’s primary purpose is to protect the crew member from the adverse effects of depressurization while inside the vessel. Moreover, that bright color called ‘International Orange’ was chosen for safety. It stands out so well against any landscape, especially the sea. In an emergency, rescuers can spot the astronaut easily thanks to the orange suit.
6. The Apollo Spacesuits
The Apollo spacesuit is probably the most famous spacesuit of all time. After all, astronauts used them for mankind’s first landing on the moon. Plus, its iconic boots have been responsible for many trends in fashion and design. In fact, some brands began to recreate the shoe for streetwear.
The Apollo spacesuit was a one-piece suit, which astronauts entered from the back. However, it had specialized boots for walking on the rocky lunar ground. Because of its historical and iconic value, many designers take inspiration from the shoes.
7. Stable Interior Pressure
When astronauts are in outer space, their bodies will inflate due to zero pressure outside. Therefore, the spacesuit’s primary function is to provide a pressurized environment for an astronaut’s body so they can live normally.
To maintain stable interior pressure, the spacesuits provide a layer of elastic rubber-like material and also use pressurized oxygen. Not to mention, the steady interior pressure also improves the mobility of the astronaut.
8. Behind The White Spacesuits
Solar radiation is a significant threat in space. Moreover, space presents extremes of both hot and cold for the astronauts. On earth, humans are protected by this continuous solar radiation because of the earth’s magnetic field. The spacesuits are white because the color reflects heat in space the same as it does here on earth.
In fact, temperatures in direct sunlight in space can be more than 275 degrees Fahrenheit. The white material allows spacesuit cooling and heating systems to work more efficiently. It reflects much of the solar radiation that falls on them.
9. Spacesuits are Unisex
There is no difference between a male’s or female’s spacesuit. To accommodate many astronauts with widely varying body sizes, the spacesuit was designed uniquely. It is made of many interchangeable parts, such as upper and lower torsos or arms. These parts are made in different sizes.
In 2019, NASA announced plans to conduct its first-ever all-women spacewalk. However, due to not enough spacesuits of smaller size, the mission, which would have been a giant leap for womankind, was canceled. However, 7 months later, it was rescheduled, and NASA introduced a new spacesuit that would fit every human body, regardless of gender.
10. How Spacesuits were Made
A spacesuit is a pressurized garment worn by astronauts during space flights. Spacesuits materials include ortho-fabric, aluminized mylar, neoprene-coated nylon, dacron, urethane-coated nylon, tricot, nylon/spandex, stainless steel, and high-strength composite materials. Moreover, spacesuits are produced by various manufacturers and assembled by NASA at their headquarters in Houston.
To get the right size, NASA would record the body measurements of each astronaut. Then, the measurements are plotted against the size ranges available for each spacesuit component. After that, NASA would sew and cement cementing various materials together and then attach metal parts to complete the suit.
11. Designed to Contain Urine
Spacesuits need to have various features to keep astronauts alive for extended periods. In fact, NASA designs the spacesuit to be capable of collecting astronauts’ urine and feces in space. Besides a backpack containing oxygen, spacesuits also provide internal pouches attached in their spacesuits to hold urine and feces.
Moreover, it also has a Maximum Absorbency Garment (MAG). It is essentially an adult-sized diaper with extra absorption material that astronauts wear to absorb urine and feces during liftoff, landing, and extra-vehicular activity (EVA).
12. The Glove Design
Gloves might seem like simple garments designed to keep your hands warm. However, gloves are an essential part for astronauts since they must be capable of picking up objects while in space. Besides protecting astronauts from the space environment, the gloves allow spacewalkers to move their fingers as efficiently.
As fingers are the part of the body that gets coldest in space, the gloves provide some additional thermal protection. In fact, the gloves on spacesuits come with heaters to keep fingers warm and ensure dexterity in using tools. Moreover, the spacesuit has two other sets of gloves that astronauts can use.
13. Life Without Spacesuits in Space
Sometimes you might wonder, what would happen to astronauts without spacesuits? Can they survive? It is possible to stay alive in space without a spacesuit, but it is only for a short time. Your blood won’t boil or instantly freeze. Instead, you would just inflate and suffocate within less than 15 seconds.
Without spacesuits, an astronaut would asphyxiate due to the lack of breathable air. They will suffer from ebullism which causes the boiling point of bodily fluids to decrease below the body’s average temperature. Since it takes a bit of time for these things to kill humans, it’s better to keep spacesuits on and make it through a quick stint in outer space.
14. Spacesuits are Puncture-Proof
An astronaut can die in many ways, but decompression is one of the most terrifying. A punctured space suit can cause decompression, where water in the body vaporizes, the lungs collapse, and circulation shuts down. Therefore, spacesuits are puncture-proof!
Using Thermal Micrometeoroid Garment as the outer layer, spacesuits can protect against micrometeoroids. Even the most minor space debris can be traveling at speeds of 17,000 miles per hour, threatening the lives of astronauts in space. In fact, spacesuits also have multiple layers of durable fabrics such as Dacron or Kevlar to protect the astronauts from micrometeoroid collisions.
15. The Future Spacesuit for Space Travel
Spacesuits have continuously evolved over the decade and become more advanced. As the idea of travel to Mars may become a reality soon, private institutions alongside NASA are developing new spacesuits that will be part of the future of space travel. Therefore, NASA is currently funding radical new ideas for spacesuits suitable for Mars and beyond.
Moreover, NASA proposes to develop the SmartSuit, which features stretchable self-healing skin to increase human performance. This intelligent outer membrane can provide visual feedback to the user, identifying potential damage, threats, or issues with the suit, amazing future spacesuits, isn’t it? Hence, future missions to the moon, Mars, and beyond will continue to shape the technology of spacesuits.
Finally, spacesuits are not just ordinary costumes. They protect astronauts during missions until they come back to the earth safely. With the advancement of technology, spacesuits have become even more advanced. Moreover, spacesuits are a staple of space travel, as it has become a symbol synonymous with humankind’s conquests into space.