A spacesuit is one of the significant recognitions in NASA’s inventory. It is a garment worn inside a spacecraft and in outer space to keep a human alive in extreme temperatures and vacuum. While on a mission spacewalk, astronauts face radiation, differences in temperature and pressure, dust, and debris. The suits protect them from these dangers and supply astronauts with oxygen to breathe. It also includes several features and technologies.
Ever since there has been a history-making of travel to space by spacecraft, astronauts depend on the spacesuit for their safety while training, working on the space station, walking on the moon, and various other activities related to space exploration.
Creation of Early Spacesuits
The evolution of space suits started in 1959 when NASA was open to United Nations space exploration missions in 1958 for a human crew. Achievements such as the first spacewalk, first landing on the moon, and first space station captured the attention of the world, thereby consistently developing the technologies of space missions and thus enhancing the performance of a spacesuit and protecting astronauts.
Early spacesuits were developed for Yuri Gagarin, the first man in space, in1961, and for Alexy Lenov, who led the first spacewalk. The designers tested and created different variations for the spacesuit over the decades. Sokol (1973) and Orlan series (1977) suits are the two types of suits widely used in space.
The creation of a space suit primarily depends on the understanding of the environment where it is used. This information on gravity, temperatures (+120 degrees Celsius to -150 degrees, intense sunlight to extreme darkness), and environment (Low earth orbit, surface of moon) in space guide the designers and technicians to choose from proper selection of materials to overall design of suit system.
In addition to the environment, another important factor is how and where the suit will be used. There are different types of spacesuits for distinct purposes:
- IVA suits – light and comfortable for IVA (Intra vehicular activity) inside a pressurized spacecraft.
- EVA suits – for mobility, functionality, and all other conditions of space -EVA (Extravehicular activity)
- IEVA suits – protection from harsh and extreme temperature conditions for inside and outside spacecraft – IEVA (Intra Extravehicular activity).
The design and manufacture of space suits slightly vary from country to country; for instance, Russian suits are tough to get the job done, whereas US suits are designed for comfort and performance. Currently, as NASA’s mission is not only on the moon (1/6th gravity of earth) but also on Mars (3/8 gravity of earth) and other asteroids, the suits have to be developed to adhere to those environments.
The other factors are the components and functions for effective mobility while working.
Functions and Components of Spacesuit
The function and usage of the suit include – activities of human motion, serving physiological needs, providing oxygen, removing carbon dioxide, absorbing moisture, applying and withstanding pressure, protecting from collisions with equipment, protection from falls, and withstanding loads, and last for their storage life.
The surface area is made from layers of textiles and flexible membranes. It contains three major layers:
- Bladder – contains oxygen
- Restraint – provides structure
- Thermal and micrometeoroid layer – protects from the environment
Progression of Spacesuit
Project Mercury Spacesuit – April 1959:
Project Mercury astronauts were introduced to the world by NASA in April 1959 after its six months of inception. It was a modified version of a US Navy jet aircraft suit. It was soft, served only as a backup for possible spacecraft cabin pressure, and consisted of two layers of fabric; however, it was difficult for pilots to bend against the force of a pressurized suit.
Project Gemini Space Suit – May 1965:
The Gemini suit had a combination of a pleasure bladder and a restraint layer that made the whole suit flexible when pressurized, unlike the mercury suit, where the fabric-type joints were used. It reduced the stiffness with increased flexibility and improved mobility for explorers.
Project Apollo – 1968:
With this mission, astronauts had to walk to the moon and collect required samples from jagged rocks. So, the designers improved experimenting on several versions based on the earlier observations and increased mobility and flexibility by use of bellows-like moulded rubber joints at shoulders, hips, and knees. They were no longer air-cooled but cooled with water with nylon mesh.
Improved versions allowed for more layers of the fabric to help them under pressurization and heat protection.
Space Shuttle Suit – 1981:
This suit was developed during its first shuttle flight with improved upper-body mobility so that they can perform activities well in a shuttle bay. With modified versions, this suit is still in use even today.
I-suit technology is developed that facilitates walking in a gravitational environment. With the latest technologies in the future, new suits are being developed which can operate at higher pressures and temperatures, have greater mobility, perform different tasks, and provide backup during an emergency. Future versions of space suits with technological advancements can be used in various ways.
- Sma.Nasa.Gov, 2022, https://sma.nasa.gov/SignificantIncidentsEVA2018/assets/space_suit_evolution.pdf.
- 2022, https://www.americanscientist.org/article/the-past-and-future-space-suit.
- “National Aeronautics And Space Administration”. NASA, 2022, https://www.nasa.gov/.
- “Space Suit – Wikipedia”. En.Wikipedia.Org, 2022, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Space_suit.
- “The Evolution Of The Space Suit”. Thoughtco, 2022, https://www.thoughtco.com/the-evolution-of-the-space-suit-3073502.