What are spacesuits from 1

A brief history of spacesuits


In 1957, the United States is four years away from its first manned space flight and the prototypes of its spacesuits are still very experimental. This picture from a vacuum chamber called “moon space” illustrates the greatest concern then and still today: cracks in the suit skin that protects people from the aggressive conditions of space. The pressure suit of the unknown researcher in the photo is rigid around the upper body. And its apparent weapon doesn't come from some science fiction flick - it's an electronic capsule leak detector.


At the end of the 1950s things got serious: NASA presented the Mercury Seven - elite pilots selected and trained over the years, one of whom is said to be the first American in space. Alan Shepard (back left) came to this honor - and burden - in 1961. Ten years later he would be the fifth person on the moon, where he made three misses and one very long shot with a golf set. The fact that the Mercury suits turn out to be quite dressy is due to their purpose: They are only designed for the pressure drop in the capsule. An emergency that luckily never occurs. Since the spacesuits do not have to be under pressure, they are soft and comparatively comfortable to wear.


A touch of the trendy late 60s already wafts through the Mojave Desert in 1962, which looks like a lunar landscape. The prototype of a suit for the moon landing announced by President Kennedy represents a complete life support system; the spacious helmet should even offer space for eating. The trick: the astronaut can pull his arms out of the side covers and move them while wearing a suit. The oxygen should come from the landing ship via a fixed connection - which in practice would have severely restricted mobility.


The crew of Gemini 3, almost a year before the start of the first two-person flight in the USA: The lucky ones are John Young and Virgil Grissom (first from left). The suit - six layers of nylon, Teflon in the outer skin - comes with portable compressed air tanks, which are often left out of photos. Fun fact: Young smuggles a corned beef sandwich on board to give to his captain Grissom. He hates astronaut food. “The only thing missing is the mustard!” - Grissom is pleased, NASA less so because crumbs fly through the spaceship. Young is still allowed to step on the moon as the ninth person: 1972 as the commander of Apollo 16.


Time to prepare for the moon: With the switch from the Gemini to the Apollo program, landing on our satellite has now become a concrete goal. This study of a suit with a Lunar Excursion Module was an important step in the lunar program. Engineer Bill Peterson adjusts test pilot Bob Smyth's extensive harness. The challenge: the module must provide complete life support and still remain mobile.


At the same time in Zambia: An elementary school teacher by the name of Edward Mukuka Nkoloso announces that he will forestall the Americans and Russians on the moon, and soon on Mars too. Media from all over the world pounce on it, also because weird actions are part of Nkoloso's marketing program: Future “Afronauts”, as Nkoloso calls his future African heroes, roll down a slope in a discarded oil drum. “Spacegirl” Matha Mwamba, who is supposed to fly off with cats and possibly a missionary, has to leave due to pregnancy.

In retrospect, the history of the Zambian space project has features of political action art, a publicity stunt and half-serious ambition. Was the whole thing serious? Hard to say.


To this day, viewers of this photo hold their breath: Bruce McCandless moves freely in space. He's left the Challenger - no rope to secure him, no hose to feed him. McCandless II is the first person to venture into this ultimate exposure in 1984. Crew colleagues take one of the iconic photos of space travel. Technically, this clearance is not really difficult, because the Manned Maneuvering Unit - pressure suit plus strapped rocket drive - can be controlled with the hands via 24 small thrusters. The adventure of complete detachment rather takes place in the head. And not just Bruce McCandless's.


The history of the BioSuit is quite unique: reality has overtaken early research and science fiction. In the 1950s, the famous MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) came up with the idea of ​​an ultra-light suit in which only the helmet was pressurized - and implemented it almost 1: 1 half a century later. The skin-tight suit provides protection similar to that of a compression stocking on an airplane, if it is tight enough and has a stable construction. The big challenge is the cooling of the space suit, which is essential for the astronaut in sunlight. Pressure suits for the whole body are usually water-cooled.


The age of private space travel seems to have come. In 2017, the visionary and Tesla head Elon Musk presented a spacesuit for his private space company SpaceX, which should ultimately make the colonization of other planets possible. The capsule in the picture is initially intended to transport NASA astronauts to the International Space Station and bring them back. CEO Musk also has a sense for adequate design: his space suit is reminiscent of a racing suit from Formula 1 - and a little bit of "Star Wars".


The ISS has a problem. While NASA introduces a new collection of their spacesuits, they are slowly becoming in short supply on the International Space Station. The suits currently used by the ISS crew for space walks were designed a good 40 years ago; new suits are still years away from production. Space suits, which astronauts call “extravehicular mobility units”, are completely self-sufficient life-sustaining systems, like miniature spaceships. They weigh around 130 kilograms and cost around $ 12 million each. New models should improve in two main ways: They should be even better on even more journeys into space - let's go to Mars! - protect and offer more freedom of movement. Before that happens, the astronauts on the ISS still have to improvise a lot!


It hardly bothered at all: In 2017, NASA presented various new spacesuits, including the PXS (Prototype Exploration Suit). His highlight: being able to bend the knee at a right angle during the space walk. A sensation for connoisseurs! The stiff armor of the no longer current generation of pressure suits is one of the biggest problems for astronauts. Another great feature of the PXS: If necessary, astronauts can simply 3D print individual parts of the suit on board. This would eliminate embarrassing news like the one from March 2019, when two women wanted to work together from the ISS for the first time: There was only one suit that fits.


Space fashion made in India: After the USA, Russia and China, India will probably be the fourth nation with its own program for manned space travel. This is demonstrated by the prototype of its own extravehicular mobility unit. The first Indian space mission is scheduled to start in 2022. Just in time for the country's 75th Independence Day.