National Geographic : 2017 Aug
PHOTOS: DAN WINTERS (LEFT); BILL STAFFORD AND ROBERT MARKOWITZ, NASA On Earth, clothes make the man—and woman. In space, they’re the key to sur- vival. Whether helping astronauts enter Earth orbit, walk on the moon, pilot a space shuttle, or travel to Mars, space suits must serve several vital functions: provide oxygen, control temperature, permit movement, power communica- tions, and protect against solar radiation. But fashion is fickle, and technology grows apace. Space historian Roger Launius says the first suits were based on what jet pilots wore. Over time they’ve evolved into autonomous mod- ules that help astronauts negotiate the inky expanse, gather samples, and work on the International Space Station. Yet in some ways they’ve hardly changed. Now as then, a space suit is essentially a gas-filled, human-shaped covering. (Exceptions include the form-fitting suits Dava Newman is de- veloping at MIT and the high-mobility models Pablo de León is designing at the University of North Dakota.) Launius says a hard-shell suit is opti- mal but impractical. “So you’ve always had suits that can be pressurized, unpres- surized, and folded up. The downside is that, when inflated, they look like the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man.” The next step: a suit that’s easy to get into and out of. “We also need one for both zero gravity and a surface with some gravity, like Mars,” says Launius. He concedes that those goals may be mutually exclusive. But why not shoot for the moon? WELL SUITED FOR SPACE WORK By Jeremy Berlin Apollo Custom-tailored for a single lunar mission, with boots made for moon- walking, Apollo-era suits were the first equipped with a life-support system. Mercury/Gemini The first space suits were modified U.S. Navy jet-aircraft pressure suits. Neoprene-coated nylon lined the inside; aluminized nylon covered the exterior. EMU The Extravehicular Mobil- ity Unit has been NASA’s workhorse suit for some 30 years, allowing astro- nauts to function in Earth orbit and build the ISS. Z-1, Z-2 These prototypes are being tested for use on the moon, asteroids, and Mars. They need to be lighter, more flexible, and more du- rable than previous suits. | EXPLORE | SPACE A SUIT FOR ALL MISSIONS Neil Armstrong wore the classic suit at left on July 20, 1969, during his historic moonwalk. The Z-2 (above) is the newest prototype, with a bubble helmet, hard upper torso, rear-entry hatch, and Tron-inspired styling.