SpaceX CEO and founder Elon Musk made public the first official photo of the commercial space company’s spacesuit design with a post on Instagram today. He indicated he’ll have more details soon and said this first ‘reveal’ isn’t just a prototype design; it’s a real, working spacesuit.
“Worth noting that this actually works (not a mockup)” Musk said. “Already tested to double vacuum pressure.”
The person inside the suit – in what looks to be a computer generated photo – looks much like Musk himself, although the face is rather hard to make out.
Following the design of many previous spacesuits, it comes in white. Musk said in designing the suit, it was “incredibly hard to balance esthetics and function. Easy to do either separately.”
There has been some discussion on social media about the orientation of the flag, as it appears to many to be “backward.” However, this follows US military custom of flags on uniforms, positioned on the right shoulder in this same orientation, with stars facing forward. This gives the effect of the flag “flying in the breeze” as the person in the uniform/spacesuit moves forward.
These are the spacesuits that will be worn by the astronauts who make the first flights on the Dragon Capsule to the International Space Station as part of the commercial crew program. The target for the first humans aboard Dragon is next year, mid-2018.
If you are looking for a spacesuit that has a little more pop of color — as well as a heart-felt mission — NASA also held a special news conference from the International Space Station today revealing a colorful new spacesuit created by children around the world who are suffering from cancer.
The Space Suit Art Project is a collaboration between NASA, spacesuit maker ILC Dover and children in hospitals around the world. This suit, called Unity, is the third in a series of suits. The suits are made of colorful patches made by young cancer patients, giving the kids an opportunity to be part of a lasting and out-of-this-world project.
Astronaut Jack Fischer donned the special (non-functioning) spacesuit and said it was tricky to get into, just like a real spacesuit. But this suit, Fischer said, “gives you the honor to represent the bravest kids in the world, who put it together.” Fischer’s daughter Bethany, is a cancer survivor.
You may have thought that whole ‘going to the bathroom in space’ issue had already been resolved, with the International Space Station operating continuously with crew on board since 2000. But as we reported back in December, long-duration, deep-space human missions will create a possible scenario of needing to take care of human waste in a spacesuit longer than just a couple of hours. And so NASA and HeroX issued a Space Poop Challenge, to create an “in-suit waste management system” that can handle six days’ worth of bathroom needs.
HeroX announced this week that five thousand different teams had submitted entries to this challenge, but Air Force officer and flight surgeon Thatcher Cardon won the $15,000 top prize by thinking out of the box, or out of the spacesuit in this case. His concept figures out a way to handle waste by getting it outside of and away from the spacesuit.
For this challenge, NASA wanted to crowdsource the concept of getting away from the MAGs (Maximum Absorbency Garment) – basically adult diapers – currently worn during 7-8 hour-long spacewalks. They need something to handle ‘bathroom needs’ for long duration missions or even an emergency (think Mark Watney) where astronauts might need to spend several days in a spacesuit.
Drawing on his “flight surgeon expertise and borrowing a design from the lingerie industry,” Cardon created the “MACES Perineal Access & Toileting System” that places a small airlock opening called the “perineal access port” in the crotch — or “fig leaf area” as Cardon’s press release called it — through which various devices can be inserted to handle liquid or solid waste.
Cardon said the port imitates surgical technologies such as laparoscopy that use small openings to insert surgical instruments and uses devices that are maneuverable with a spacesuit-style gloved hand.
And if you think inflatable space modules are the wave of the future, you’ll love Cardon’s proposal for an inflatable bed pan. The bedpan has an absorbent liner and is can be slide through the port. Once in place inside the spacesuit, it inflates to capture the waste.
Cardon also invented a diaper made of one, long strip. The strip has segments of absorbent gel alternated with plastic segments that layer over the crotch. When one layer is soaked, the astronaut pulls it out through the port and tears it off like tape from a dispenser, exposing a fresh layer of gel.
Cardon said he filed a patent on his devices this week, as many NASA technologies have found widespread use on Earth. Cardon thinks his ideas may have extensive application. For example, the strip diaper might reduce the number of diaper changes needed by bedridden patients.
The $10,000 second-place prize went to three doctors from Houston that called themselves the “Space Poop Unification of Doctors” team. They created a devices that would direct waste through tube that empties into a small storage tank inside the suit.
In third place for a $5,000 prize was the “SWIMSuit—Zero Gravity Underwear.” These underwear disinfect the waste and store it inside the suit.
Cardon said in a press release that his involvement in the Space Poop Challenge was “a ton of fun,” and that he involved his entire family and co-workers, and that his small family practice office “was in an uproar” while he was working on his inventions.
Cardon said he will celebrate his win with a poop themed party for his colleagues, family, base community and church friends, complete with poop emoji cupcakes, special-ordered from the local bakery.
Thanks to Dr. Cardon for sharing his images with Universe Today.
Boeing has unveiled the advanced new lightweight spacesuits that astronauts will sport as passengers aboard the company’s CST-100 Starliner space taxi during commercial taxi journey’s to and from and the International Space Station (ISS) and other low Earth orbit destinations.
The signature ‘Boeing Blue’ spacesuits will be much lighter, as well as more flexible and comfortable compared to earlier generations of spacesuits worn by America’s astronauts over more than five decades of human spaceflight, starting with the Mercury capsule to the latest gear worn by Space Shuttle astronauts.
“The suit capitalizes on historical designs, meets NASA requirements for safety and functionality, and introduces cutting-edge innovations,” say NASA officials.
The suits protect the astronauts during both launch and reentry into the Earth’s atmosphere during the return home.
Indeed, Chris Ferguson, a former NASA Space Shuttle Commander who now works for Boeing as a Starliner program director, helped reveal the ‘Boeing Blue’ spacesuits during a Facebook live event, where he modeled the new suit.
“We slogged through some of the real engineering challenges and now we are getting to the point where those challenges are largely behind us and it’s time to get on to the rubber meeting the road,” Ferguson said.
The suits offer superior functionality, comfort and protection for astronauts who will don them when crewed Starliner flights to the space station begin as soon as next year.
At roughly half the weight (about 10 pounds vs. 20 pounds) compared to the launch-and-entry suits worn by space shuttle astronauts, crews look forward to wearing the ‘Boeing Blue’ suits.
“Spacesuits have come in different sizes and shapes and designs, and I think this fits the Boeing model, fits the Boeing vehicle,” said Chris Ferguson.
Among the advances cited are:
• Lighter and more flexible through use of advanced materials and new joint patterns
• Helmet and visor incorporated into the suit instead of detachable. The suit’s hood-like soft helmet sports a wide polycarbonate visor to give Starliner passengers better peripheral vision throughout their ride to and from space.
• A communications headset within the helmet also helps connect astronauts to ground and space crews
• Touchscreen-sensitive gloves that allow astronauts to interact with the capsule’s tablets screens overhead
• Vents that allow astronauts to be cooler, but can still pressurize the suit immediately
• Breathable, slip resistant boots
• Zippers in the torso area will make it easier for astronauts to comfortably transition from sitting to standing
• Innovative layers will keep astronauts cooler
“The most important part is that the suit will keep you alive,” astronaut Eric Boe said, in a statement. “It is a lot lighter, more form-fitting and it’s simpler, which is always a good thing. Complicated systems have more ways they can break, so simple is better on something like this.”
The astronauts help the designers to perfect the suits very practically by wearing them inside Starliner mock-ups, moving around to accomplish tasks, reaching for the tablets screens, and climbing in and out of the capsule repeatedly, says Boe “so they can establish the best ways for astronauts to work inside the spacecraft’s confines.”
“The spacesuit acts as the emergency backup to the spacecraft’s redundant life support systems,” said Richard Watson, subsystem manager for spacesuits for NASA’s Commercial Crew Program.
“If everything goes perfectly on a mission, then you don’t need a spacesuit. It’s like having a fire extinguisher close by in the cockpit. You need it to be effective if it is needed.”
Boe is one of four NASA astronauts that form the core cadre of astronauts training for the initial flight tests aboard either the Boeing Starliner or SpaceX Crew Dragon now under development as part of NASA’s Commercial Crew program.
The inaugural flight tests are slated to begin in 2018 under contract to NASA.
The procedure on launch day will be similar to earlier manned launches. For Starliner, however, the capsule will launch atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket – currently being man-rated.
Astronauts will don the new ‘Boeing Blue’ suit in the historic Crew Quarters. The will ride out to the rocket inside an astrovan. After reaching Space Launch Complex 41, they will take the elevator up, stride across the recently installed Crew Access Arm and board Starliner as it stands atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket.
The first test flight will carry a crew of two. Soon thereafter the crew size will grow to four when regular crew rotation flights to the ISS starting as soon as 2019.
“To me, it’s a very tangible sign that we are really moving forward and we are a lot closer than we’ve been,” Ferguson said. “The next time we pull all this together, it might be when astronauts are climbing into the actual spacecraft.”
Boeing is currently manufacturing the Starliner spacecraft at the company’s Commercial Crew and Cargo Processing Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and planetary science and human spaceflight news.
So far, every spacesuit humans have utilized has been designed with a specific mission and purpose in mind. As of yet, there’s been no universal or “perfect” spacesuit that would fit every need. For example, the US ACES “pumpkin” suits and the Russian Sokol are only for launch and reentry and can’t be used for spacewalks. And the Apollo A7L suits were designed with hard soled boots for astronauts to walk on the Moon, while the current NASA EMU and the Russian Orlan are designed for use in space, but with soft soled booties so as not to damage the exterior of the space station.
What would constitute the perfect spacesuit that could be used for any mission? It would have to be lightweight while being impervious to rips, impacts and radiation, but also be flexible, fit multiple sizes, and be comfortable enough to be worn for long periods of time.
With those specifications in mind, is it possible to create the perfect spacesuit?
“Designing a spacesuit turns into a battle between protection and mobility,” said NASA astronaut trainer Robert Frost in an article on Quora. “The more we try to protect the wearer, the less mobile they become. The more mobile we make them, the less protected they are.”
The perfect spacesuit would be, to quote Elon Musk, “badass.”
That’s the terminology the SpaceX used in negotiations with suit-making companies to create the pressure suit for SpaceX’s future commercial passengers. SpaceX is now designing their own suit, and Musk said SpaceX is looking for not just utility but esthetics, too.
“It needs to both look like a 21st-century space suit and work well,” he said during a reddit AMA.
But even with SpaceX’s ‘badass’ suit, they are designing with one purpose in mind.
And there are obstacles to having a “badass space suit design,” wrote Eric Sofge in an article in Popular Science. “A launch-entry suit is ungainly, an oversize one-piece embedded with rigid interfaces for the helmet and gloves, and enough room to inflate, basketball-like, when pressurized—especially in the seat, so an astronaut isn’t forced to stand up.”
One of the best hopes on the horizon is a “shrink-wrap” type of spacesuit that MIT has been developing. It is a lightweight, form-fitting, flexible spacesuit — a la Seven of Nine on Star Trek: Voyager— lined with tiny, muscle like coils.
“With conventional spacesuits, you’re essentially in a balloon of gas that’s providing you with the necessary one-third of an atmosphere [of pressure,] to keep you alive in the vacuum of space,” said one of the developers, Dava Newman. “We want to achieve that same pressurization, but through mechanical counterpressure — applying the pressure directly to the skin, thus avoiding the gas pressure altogether. We combine passive elastics with active materials. … Ultimately, the big advantage is mobility, and a very lightweight suit for planetary exploration.”
MIT is using a nickel-titanium shape-memory alloy and they are continuing to test ideas. Some problems with this suit include the difficulty of putting on such a tight suit in a zero-gravity environment and how a gas-pressurized helmet can be connected to the compression-pressurized suit.
NASA recently revealed the winner of a public-voted spacesuit design called the Z-2. While it looks a bit like Buzz Lightyear’s fictional suit, it has bearings in the joints that make more flexible than NASA’s current EMU. It also has a rear-entry port, allowing it to be docked to the side of a mobile transporter or habitat, essentially turning the suit into its own air lock. This helps to avoid bringing in abrasive soil and dust such as lunar regolith Martian soil. NASA is currently testing the Z-2 prototype with plans to develop a better suit, the Z-3. If it works well, the Z-3 might be used in a space walk from the International Space Station by 2017.
So, still, the perfect spacesuit eludes us.
But here are some other additions that would make the perfect spacesuit:
Self-healing: Currently, having multiple layers is the best way to defend against rips or tears, which can be fatal in the vacuum of space. But MIT’s body suit would utilize mechanical counterpressure to counteract a rip, and engineers at ILC Dover are looking into integrating self-healing materials, such as polymers embedded with microencapsulated chemicals that would create a foam to heal a torn suit.
Better gloves: gloves have been one of the hardest things to design in spacesuits. Making a glove that is both flexible and protective is a challenge. Astronaut Duane Carey compared spacewalks to trying to fix your car while wearing winter mittens. Astronauts have had skin rubbed until it bleeds and have lost fingernails because of how the current gloves wear. NASA is constantly working on better gloves.
Augmented Vision: Currently, NASA’s polycarbonate helmets could be confused with fishbowls. One material that could be used for future helmets is a clear ceramic called ALON, which is thinner than bulletproof glass and three times as strong. Another addition could be an internal heads-up display — like ones used by F-16 pilots – to provide data and information.
A better cooling system: Current suits have “underwear” with about 300 feet of plastic tubing that circulate waters to draw away body heat. Purdue University engineers are developing a polymer using glass fibers coated with thermoelectric nanocrystals that absorb heat and discharge electricity.
Artificial Gravity: Remember the magnetic boots worn in Star Trek: The Undiscovered Country and Star Trek: Insurrection? The University of Massachusetts is developing a dry adhesive that could help astronauts and those pesky floating tools to “stick” to surfaces. It is made of a carbon fiber weave and mimics the skin and tendon structure of gecko feet. Another idea — while not quite the same – is a way to counter muscle and bone atrophy in zero-G: Draper Labs are developing gyroscopes the could be attached to the arms and legs of spacesuits that could provide resistance similar to the force of gravity on Earth.
Long-life Battery Power: One issue for long spacewalks is having enough battery power. Michigan Tech is developing units that can convert movement into electricity. Also, Elon Musk might have some ideas for long-lasting batteries…
So, while many entities are working on ideas and concepts, the perfect spacesuit has yet to be developed. If humans are going to go to an asteroid, back to the Moon, to Mars or on a mission to deep space, we’ll need a suit as close to perfect as possible.
There are three options (which you can see above), and NASA promises the winning design will be used in pool training at NASA’s Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory, the Johnson Space Center “rockyard” to simulate Mars exploration, and in vacuum tests. Outer space is not an option because of “micrometeorite, thermal and radiation protection” considerations, however.
In NASA’s words, here’s a quick summary of the prototypes:
Biomimicry: The “Biomimicry” design draws from an environment with many parallels to the harshness of space: the world’s oceans. Mirroring the bioluminescent qualities of aquatic creatures found at incredible depths, and the scaly skin of fish and reptiles found across the globe, this design reflects the qualities that protect some of Earth’s toughest creatures.
Technology: “Technology” pays homage to spacesuit achievements of the past while incorporating subtle elements of the future. By using Luminex wire and light-emitting patches, this design puts a new spin on spacewalking standards such as ways to identify crew members.
Trends In Society: “Trends in Society” is based off of just that: being reflective of what every day clothes may look like in the not too distant future. This suit uses electroluminescent wire and a bright color scheme to mimic the appearance of sportswear and the emerging world of wearable technologies.
The Z-2 includes several improvements over its Z-1 predecessor, which won an invention award from Time magazine in 2012. These include a “hard composite” upper torso that is intended to be more durable, better shoulder and hip joints, and boots that would be more useful on a planet.
Who wants Adam Savage’s job right now? The cohost of Mythbusters spent the last year working with a San Francisco Bay-area costume designer to come up with this remarkable Mercury spacesuit. While it’s not a faithful replica of any one mission — it’s more a blend of greatest hits from the designs of several — it really looks like Savage could step into a spacecraft at any moment.
“The whole point of the Mercury program … was to figure out how to safely get people into space and what would happen to them,” Savage says in a new video, which you can see below.
“So every single time they came down from a Mercury mission they [the astronauts] would talk to the engineers and spend weeks in meetings going ‘Okay, I couldn’t move my arm this way. I couldn’t hit this switch in this way. I couldn’t turn my head.”
The issue of “what to wear?” takes on an extra dimension of life and death when it comes to space travel. Upon exiting a spacecraft on a spacewalk, an astronaut becomes his very own personal satellite in orbit about the Earth and must rely on the flimsy layer of his suit to provide them with a small degree of protection from radiation and extreme fluctuations of heat and cold.
We recently had a chance to see the past, present and future of space suit technology in the Smithsonian Institutions’ touring Suited for Space exhibit currently on display at the Tampa Bay History Center in Tampa, Florida.
Tampa Bay History Center Director of Marketing Manny Leto recently gave Universe Today an exclusive look at the traveling display. If you think you know space suits, Suited for Space will show you otherwise, as well as give you a unique perspective on a familiar but often overlooked and essential piece of space hardware. And heck, it’s just plain fascinating to see the design and development of some of these earlier suits as well as videos and stills of astronauts at work – and yes, sometimes even at play – in them.
One of the highlights of the exhibit are some unique x-ray images of iconic suits from space travel history. Familiar suits become new again in these images by Smithsonian photographer Mark Avino, which includes a penetrating view of Neil Armstrong’s space suit that he wore on Apollo 11.
Space suits evolved from pressure suits developed for high-altitude flights in the 1950’s, and Suited for Space traces that progression. It was particularly interesting to see the depiction of Wiley Post’s 1934 suit, complete with steel cylindrical helmet and glass portal! Such early suits resembled diving bell suits of yore — think Captain Nemo in a chemsuit. Still, this antiquated contraption was the first practical full pressure suit that functioned successfully at over 13,000 metres altitude.
No suit that has been into space is allowed to tour due to the fragility of many historic originals that are now kept at the Smithsonian, though several authentic suits used in training during the U.S. space program are on display. We thought it was interesting to note how the evolution of the spacesuit closely followed the development of composites and materials through the mid-20th century. You can see the progression from canvas, glass and steel in the early suits right up though the advent of the age of plastic and modern fabrics. Designs have flirted with the idea of rigid and semi-rigid suits before settling on the modern day familiar white astronaut suit.
Spacesuit technology has also always faced the ultimate challenge of protecting an astronaut from the rigors of space during Extra-Vehicular Activity, or EVA.
Cosmonaut Alexey Leonov performed the first 12 minute space walk during Voskhod 2 back in 1965, and NASA astronaut Ed White became the first American to walk in space on Gemini 4 just months later. Both space walkers had issues with over-heating, and White nearly didn’t make it back into his Gemini capsule.
Designing a proper spacesuit was a major challenge that had to be overcome. In 1962, Playtex (yes THAT Playtex) was awarded a contract to develop the suits that astronauts would wear on the Moon. Said suits had 13 distinct layers and weighed 35 kilograms here on Earth. The Playtex industrial division eventually became known as the International Latex Corporation or ILC Dover, which still makes spacesuits for ISS crewmembers today. It’s also fascinating to see some of the alternate suits proposed, including one “bubble suit” with arms and legs (!) that was actually tested but, thankfully, was never used.
These suits were used by astronauts on the Moon, to repair Hubble, build the International Space Station and much more. Al Worden recounts performing the “most distant EVA ever” on the return from the Moon in his book Falling to Earth. This record will still stand until the proposed asteroid retrieval mission in the coming decade, which will see astronauts performing the first EVA ever in orbit around Earth’s Moon.
And working in a modern spacesuit during an EVA is anything but routine. CSA Astronaut Chris Hadfield said in his recent book An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth that “Spacewalking is like rock climbing, weightlifting, repairing a small engine and performing an intricate pas de deux – simultaneously, while encased in a bulky suit that’s scraping your knuckle, fingertips and collarbone raw.”
And one only has to look at the recent drama that cut ESA astronaut Luca Parmitamo’s EVA short last year to realize that your spacesuit is the only thin barrier that exists between yourself and the perils of space.
“We’re delighted to host our first Smithsonian Institution Travelling Exhibition Service (SITES) and we think that Florida’s close ties to NASA and the space program make it a great fit for us,” said Rodney Kite-Powell, the Tampa Bay History Center’s Saunders Foundation Curator of History.
Be sure to catch this fascinating exhibit coming to a city near you!
-Here’s the schedule for Suited for Space Exhibit tour.
-Astronaut Nicole Stott (veteran of STS-128, -129, -133, & ISS Expeditions 20 and 21) will also be on hand at the Tampa Bay History Center on March 2014 (Date to be Announced) to present Suited for Space: An Astronaut’s View.
It was only a matter of time: An epic mashup of movies with people wearing helmets in space, edited by Keith Melton. “A tribute to all space helmets in cinema,” he says. Even the music he uses is a mashup (‘Ground Control to Eleanor Rigby’ by ‘Daft Beatles’)
A spacesuit is a complicated conglomeration of switches, dials, hoses, tabs, and multiple layers of high-tech material. It serves various functions and is part miniature spacecraft, part atmospheric re-creation, and part medical necessity — with the number one priority of protecting those who wear it. But that doesn’t mean a spacesuit is always comfortable. “The whole suit is like a big bladder and it weighs about 80 lbs,” said astronaut Scott Altman, explaining the intricacies of the orange ACES launch and entry space suit to a group of children, “and it’s not always easy to move around in it.” But, undoubtedly today’s suit is more advanced and slightly more comfortable than the spacesuit Altman’s STS-125 crewmate, John Grunsfeld assembled as a child, concocted from vacuum cleaner parts and ice cream tins.
Altman was visiting the Lakeview Museum of Arts and Sciences in Peoria, IL, a facility he visited often while growing up. The museum presented him with a portrait painted by local artist and businessman Bill Hardin, a detailed depiction of Altman wearing the ACES suit, and Altman was asked to explain the various parts of the space suit to the children (and very interested adults) in attendance.
The Advanced Crew Escape Suit, or ACES, is currently worn by all space shuttle crews for the ascent and entry portions of flight.
“It’s a full-pressure suit,” Altman explained, “and the idea is if you are in the space shuttle and the spacecraft loses pressure, the suit will inflate because your body needs pressure on it so you can keep breathing and it will provide you with oxygen to breathe as well.”
The gloves and helmet are attached to the suit with locking metal rings. Altman said the neck can get a little uncomfortable because it has a “seal” that can get quite tight at the neck. “But it has some tabs we can pull on to bring the seal away from our necks when are walking around in the suit before you get on the space shuttle,” he said “which is nice because otherwise it is difficult to turn your head!”
Then Altman described the helmet. “It fits in and slides into the latches on the metal ring,” he explained. “The funny thing is that most helmets I’ve worn, when you turn your head the helmet turns with you. But in this helmet, you turn your head and you end up looking at the inside of the helmet. You actually have to turn the helmet manually with your hands by grabbing hold of the front of it and moving everything together.”
Another thing about the helmet is that wearing it makes it hard to see up above your head. What makes this interesting for Altman is that he is the shuttle commander, flying the spacecraft as the lead pilot. The shuttle has over 450 separate switches and buttons in the cockpit, not counting all the circuit breakers that can be pulled out. Some of them are located — you guessed it – up above the commander’s head.
“We are strapped in our seats very tight, and with the helmet on it is really hard to look up,” Altman said. “You can’t lean back very well in the seats, so to look up at all the switches up high, you kind of have to bend over and twist and turn your head, and turn the helmet. So it makes life a little more difficult.”
One child asked about the big zipper-like contraption on the front of the suit.
“When you’re standing up in the suit everything fits pretty well,” Altman said, “but imagine when you are sitting down the bottom of the suit rises up and everything else moves up, too. Then, when the suit starts to inflate the whole thing starts to rise up so pretty soon you find yourself looking at the bottom edge of the inside of the helmet and you can’t see. So this is a pulley system that allows you to tighten up the suit so it doesn’t go up over your head. These are all-important safety measures!”
Altman used several acronyms to describe the different parts on the suit, saying NASA loves to make up new acronyms for everything. “We fly laptops in space to use but we don’t just call them laptops,” he said. “We call them PGSC’s and I don’t even know what that stands for!” (Payload and General Support Computer)
Later, Altman answered questions submitted by children about what he has seen on his space travels, how to eat and shower in space, and of course, how to go to the bathroom in space.