Truly Universal Fashion – The Spacesuit

When we think of space and space age, we always assume that clothing will be of the tin-foil variety with bizarre geometrical patterns.

Well to start with our own Earth Spacemen did wear the galaxy ball look but over the years it changed to its more comfortable and less bulky look.

The space suits, also known as EMUs or Extra-vehicular Mobility Units, protect astronauts when they go outside their spacecraft.

Anatomy of the space suit:

* The outer layers protect against radiation from the Sun and other space particles and dust

* The inner side of the space suit is blown up like a balloon to press against the body  which in effect  acts as a space bubble wrap.  The function of this is to ensure that the blood would not boil. 🙁 eck

* The inner lining of the space suit encapsulates tubings which contain water, that will cool down or warm up the body during space walk.

* The suit also includes mini apparatus which provide drinks or to collect urine.

* The helmet protect against radiation as well as micrometeoroids (meteor dusts); inside the helmet, oxygen is circulated to prevent the helmet’s clear visor from misting.

* The gloves have silicone-rubber fingertips which allow for a sense of touch.

* The backpack contains up to 7 hours of pure oxygen for the astronaut to breathe.  It also functions as a machine to get rid of the carbon dioxide that the astronaut exhale.

As of year 2000, a space suit would cost about $11 million.

Behind the Fashion: What Astronauts Wore in Space

evolution-of-space-suits-2013-bean_70249_600x450Bean’s Space Suit
Photograph by Mark Avino, Smithsonian Institution

When astronaut Alan Bean went to space on the 1973 Skylab 3 mission, he wore the suit pictured here. It was designed with a spiral zipper, to allow astronauts to sit in the lunar rover without having their suits balloon out.

“The previous edition had a zipper which provided no mobility in the hips,” said Lewis. “To circumvent, engineers designed this suit with a spiral zipper, which starts at the right corner of the neck ring and goes around the side to build in the localization of air pressure in the hip.”

You may be wondering why the suit—like most space suits—is bright white. There’s a reason for that too. The color was designed with its reflectivity in mind—to help astronauts deflect solar radiation, swings in temperature, and even tiny particulates.

“It was designed to dissipate energy laterally,” said Lewis. “There are actually many layers which deflect particles and slow them down before they can puncture the pressure layer.”

All of the astronauts in the Apollo program were provided with repair kits in case of a tear, but all of them say the repair kits were never used, said Lewis. The astronauts wore the suits both outside the spacecraft and during entry and re-entry—which created a tricky balancing act for engineers trying to make safe and comfortable gear.

“On the Apollo missions, you had to fit the suits inside the spacecraft but still make them vigorous enough to work outside on the lunar surfaces,” said Lewis. “The Apollo spacecraft looks relatively small when you have to protect shoulders and give mobility so that three healthy-sized men can sit in it abreast.”


evolution-of-space-suits-2013-ex-1a_70250_600x450 No Zippers for Launch
Photograph by Mark Avino, Smithsonian Institution

Perhaps the most interesting part of the experimental EXI-A space suit is its lack of zippers. The earliest space suits had zippers, but now joints are made of hard seals.

“Zippers are unreliable,” said Lewis. “Even the best ones are only okay for several pressurizations.”

Suits today are designed to last much longer, she said. And every return from space means a deep cleaning and inspection, with new seals and O-rings applied.

The result is a suit that is air-tight, for the protection of the astronaut. That also means the suit can get kind of hot.

“It’s like being in a plastic bag,” said Lewis. “Of course, there are comfort layers—usually long johns—and the astronauts are also given diapers.”

This wasn’t always the case. When Alan Shepard became the first American in space during the Mercury mission, he wasn’t given a diaper because the entire mission was supposed to last 15 minutes.

That was before a problem with the launch pad required Shepard to sit in his shuttle for six hours before launch. And sure enough, nature called. There were two options, he was told. Abort the launch or … urinate in his suit.

As Lewis puts it: “They didn’t have any amenities for Alan Shepard, but they learned quickly.”


evolution-of-space-suits-2013-mark-v_70251_600x450Suited for Space
Photograph by Mark Avino, Smithsonian Institution

Above, a photograph of the prototype Mark V space suit, which was designed in the early 1960s to help astronauts achieve a fuller range of motion while performing delicate tasks in the vacuum of space.

This photograph, one of several on display at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C., helps paint a fuller portrait of what astronauts wore to survive entry and spacewalks.

The photographs are part of a larger exhibit called “Suited for Space,” which traces the evolution of space suits over the past 60 years through photos, x-rays, and artifacts. (Related: “Photos: Space Suit Evolution Since First NASA Flight.”)

Cathleen Lewis, a historian and curator of international space programs at the museum, explained that the asymmetrical shoulders on the Mark V space suit were designed as a test.

“The right arm is the traditional shoulder design,” she said. “But on the left arm, you can see bellows, which would allow the astronauts to localize air displacement and restrain the pressurization of outer space.”

In other words, if an astronaut lifted his or her arm in space without these specialized joints, the arm of the suit would balloon up—making it impossible to do work.

The traveling exhibit will remain in Washington, D.C., through December 1, when it will continue to stops in Tampa, Philadelphia, and Seattle.


evolution-of-space-suits-2013-mercury-7_70252_600x450Alan Shepard’s Space Suit
Photograph by Mark Avino, Smithsonian Institution

Looking at astronaut Alan Shepard’s suit—which he wore in space—it’s clear just how complex a space suit really is.

“There were communication wires and wires throughout the chest that would send measurements like an astronaut’s heart rate back down to Earth,” said Lewis. “You can see the constraints in the hips and the knees.” (Related: “What’s Inside a Space Suit? X-Rays Reveal All.”)

Pointing lower, she said, “The boots are thick and heavy, to absorb radiation on the bottom of the soles.”

A suit like Shepard’s weighed about 56 pounds (25 kilograms), sans life-support gear and helmet. Add those components and the weight almost triples, to 182 pounds (82 kilograms).

On Earth, the astronauts had technicians to help them into the suits. But during the later Apollo missions, the astronauts had to help each other.

“After landing on the moon during Apollo 11, the astronauts prepped for three hours,” said Lewis. “They were dressing and then double- and triple-checking along their checklists, to make sure everything was in place.”

Published August 9, 2013

—Melody Kramer


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