A fully pressurized space suit has always been an enormously difficult engineering challenge. From the very first spacesuit, the Soviet SK-1 worn by Yuri Gagarin in 1961 to the latest offerings, the huge complications have been ever-present. A suit needs to be: –
- able to create a pressurized atmosphere
- fire retardant
- small and as lightweight as possible
The list goes on and on. For an IVA (Intra-Vehicular Activity) suit, there are less requirements than an EVA (Extra-Vehicular Activity) suit, too. Not only does the suit have to be flexible enough to move around in, an EVA is required with withstand the harsh conditions of space. As our intrepid SpaceX astronauts will be seated comfortably, the IVA suit should be all they need for a safe trip.
SpaceX And Elon Musk
Elon Musk’s SpaceX, and NASA, at the time of writing, attempted the first launch of the Demo-2 mission. This historic mission was to launch two astronauts to the International Space Station; the first time a private company has ever attempted this. Read more on the mission here.
Musk, the chief engineer and founder of SpaceX, has a vision of sustainable space exploration with the ultimate goal of the colonization of Mars. Love him or hate him, Musk is ambitious, a workaholic, and a dreamer who actually works to make his dreams reality.
“I think fundamentally the future is vastly more exciting and interesting if we’re a spacefaring civilization and a multiplanet species than if we’re not. You want to be inspired by things. You want to wake up in the morning and think the future is going to be great. And that’s what being a spacefaring civilization is all about.”Elon Musk
Getting to space is obviously very challenging, I mean, it is actual rocket science! But with the foundations in technology built over decades in the main by the USA, Russia, and China, Musk’s SpaceX is going all in. The foremost important aspect of design engineering for SpaceX is of course safety. But very high on the list for Elon Musk is aesthetics. He wants his space gear to look cool. The Musk cynics out there might believe this aspiration for style is for his ego or entrepreneur street cred. They may be right to a degree, but could it be more likely that it’s strategic?
The World, in general, has fallen out of love with space exploration, the number of people watching launches declining since the moon landings. Though a huge percentage still think space exploration is important.
Musk needs space to woo the world again, take it out for dinner in it’s finest suit, promise it an exciting future, and reignite the love. Making bold targets like a Mars landing within a decade and a Mars city by 2050 is one way. Another is to make SpaceX look like it belongs in the future, make it look cool as a way to inspire younger generations into wanting to be part of space exploration. Getting the world to buy into space exploration again will certainly help his ambitions
Inspired by characters from gaming titles Halo and Mass Effect. The SpaceX suit has managed to look very cool and futuristic whilst remaining safe, lightweight and functional. But I guess that’s what happens when you mix elite engineers with somebody like Jose Fernandez. Jose designed Hollywood superhero outfits such as Avengers, Captain America: Civil War, and Wonder Woman.
SpaceX IVA Suit
The suit is one piece so that no parts can come loose in zero gravity and float off. Designed with 2 layers. An internal bladder is present, that has the capacity to provide a pressurized atmosphere should depressurization occur in the cabin. The outer layer provides protection from fire and the increased radiation the astronauts are exposed to in space.
SpaceX hasn’t released many details about the specifics of the suit but it’s known that the white part of the suit is made from a type of Teflon and the grey areas on the sleeves and neck are made from Nomex.
The 3D printed helmet has integrated valves, an in-built microphone, and a retracting and locking mechanism for the visor. The gloves have to be flexible, functional, and touch screen compatible as there is a significant amount of touch screen tech on board. Oxygen, temperature control, comms, health status are all attached through a single point in the thigh area of the suit. This then essentially docks to the astronaut’s seat.
Since the writing of this article, the 27th May launch was abandoned. Inclement weather rolled in which deemed the launch too risky, so the abort was called. Whilst this left everyone a little frustrated, it was a good thing to see that no unnecessary risks will be taken.
Astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley you can unclench your butt cheeks! Well, for a short while at least. The next available launch day will be Saturday 30th May. If that day is still not suitable then there will be an opportunity the next day, Sunday 31st May.
You will still be able to watch the launch via NASA’s live stream.
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