NASA unveiled the suit astronauts will wear during the 2025 Artemis III moon mission.
The new Extravehicular Mobility Unit spacesuit was developed by private company Axiom Space.
NASA gave astronauts their first operational spacesuits in the early 1960s.
Space may be the final frontier, but it’s wildly inaccessible and downright deadly to any plucky human without a great spacesuit.
Astronauts are scheduled to return to the moon for the first time in 50 years in 2025 with NASA’s Artemis III mission. The space agency just unveiled a new fit for the occasion, developed by private company Axiom Space.
NASA hired Axiom to build its latest spacesuits in June 2022, after it spent years and millions trying to develop its own. In August 2021, the agency reported that despite spending $420 million since 2017, its own suits wouldn’t be ready for space before April 2025 “at the earliest.”
Axiom’s new Extravehicular Mobility Unit leverages NASA’s own exploration version, introduced in 2019.
But the very first operational spacesuits were introduced in the early 1960s to protect high-flying astronauts as they risk their lives in the name of space exploration.
From the silvery suits of the Mercury program to Elon Musk’s sleek Crew Dragon suits, here’s how astronauts’ spacesuits have evolved over six decades.
Mercury Suit (1961-1963)
Project Mercury marked the first time US citizens ventured into orbit around Earth.
To protect the first astronauts from sudden pressure loss, NASA modified high-altitude jet-aircraft pressure suits from the US Navy. Each space suit had a layer of neoprene-coated nylon on the inside and aluminized nylon on the outside (to keep the suit’s inner temperature as stable as possible).
Six astronauts flew into space wearing the suit before NASA retired it from service.
Gemini Suit (1965-1966)
Gemini was NASA’s second space program — and one with more ambitious goals. The Gemini capsule carried a two-astronaut crew into space, and had one (uncomfortable) mission that lasted two weeks.
The David Clark Company designed Gemini suits to be flexible when pressurized, and took extra steps to make them more comfortable than Mercury suits. For example, they could be connected to a portable air conditioner to keep the astronauts cool until they could hook up to the spacecraft’s lines. These suits weighed 16-34 pounds.
Gemini Spacewalk Suit (1965-1966)
One type of Gemini suit, called G4C, was designed with NASA’s first spacewalks in mind. Astronauts would open the hatch during these ventures and leave the safety of their vehicle to work in the vacuum of space.
To withstand the harsh space environment, the suit connected the astronauts to the spacecraft via a hose, which supplied them with oxygen. In case there was a problem, though, some variants of the suit provided up to 30 minutes of backup life support. The heaviest variant weighed about 34 pounds.
Apollo Spacewalk Suit (1967-1975)
The Apollo program brought astronauts to the moon, and it was no walk in the park. The astronauts needed more protection than either the Gemini or Mercury suits could offer.
The first people to walk the moon required a shield against fine regolith (dust as sharp as glass); protection from wild temperature swings from sun to shade; the flexibility to install gear and pick up moon rocks; and the ability to last for hours away from a spacecraft.
The suit came with a dozen layers of fabric, thick boots, and a robust life-support system. Each weighed more than 180 pounds on Earth, but just one-sixth as much in the moon’s weaker gravity field.
First Space Shuttle Flight Suit (1981)
A mission called STS-1 — short for Space Transportation System-1 — was the first orbital spaceflight of NASA’s space shuttle program.
Columbia, the first 100-ton orbiter, carried a two-astronaut crew into space and orbited Earth 37 times before reentering the atmosphere and gliding back to a runway. Astronauts weren’t venturing outside, so they only wore an emergency ejection escape suit, which (like the Mercury suit) was a modified version of a US Air Force high-altitude pressure suit.
Extravehicular Mobility Unit (1979-present)
Astronauts of the space-shuttle era would work regularly in space to maintain satellites as well as construct and maintain the International Space Station (ISS).
They needed a workhorse spacewalk suit for such tasks, so NASA created the Extravehicular Mobility Unit. This 14-layer pressurized suit could withstand the harsh void of space and keep astronauts alive for more than eight hours. Fully loaded with gear and supplies, it could weigh nearly 320 pounds on Earth.
NASA also tested a jetpack-like device for the EMU, called a Manned Maneuvering Unit, that allowed astronauts to fly around free and untethered. People on board the ISS today use an advanced version of EMUs to maintain the space station.
Space Shuttle Flight Suit (1988-2011)
The suit that astronauts wore during the Space Shuttle program is sometimes called a “pumpkin suit” for its bright orange color. The suit is equipped with gloves on disconnecting lock rings on the wrist, liquid cooling, improved ventilation, and extra layers of insulation.
Sokol Launch and Entry Suit (present)
The sharp, blue-lined spacesuit you see many astronauts wearing today is actually a Russian suit called the Sokol or “Falcon” spacesuit.
The 22-pound suit is pretty similar to the space shuttle flight suit, though it’s used to protect people who fly inside Russia’s Soyuz spacecraft.
SpaceX Crew Dragon Flight Suit (2020 – present)
The sleek white spacesuits were designed by Elon Musk’s company SpaceX. Musk unveiled them during a press conference in 2017, and NASA astronauts Bob Nehnken and Doug Hurley first used them when they flew into space in a SpaceX capsule in May 2020 with the Crew Dragon mission.
Jose Fernandez, a Hollywood costume designer that has worked on movies like X-Men: Dark Phoenix, Aquaman, and Thor: Ragnarok, came up with the design. While elegant and futuristic, the suits were only made for the Crew Dragon capsule and are not suitable for taking a space walk.
Crew Dragons are used to transport NASA astronauts to and from the International Space Station, as well as for commercial flights.
Boeing CST-100 Starliner Flight Suit (2022 – present)
First expected in 2019, Boeing unveiled its bright blue Starliner flight suit in June 2022. It is designed to be used on the CST-100 Starliner capsules, which are expected to take their first crew to space imminently.
The suit includes a helmet attached with a thick, air-tight zipper (no heavy or bulky neck ring required).
Axiom Extravehicular Mobility Unit suit (2023)
The Axiom Extravehicular Mobility Unit suits, or AxEMUs, will be delivered to NASA by the summer. The dark gray and orange version unveiled in March 2023 is a prototype, and the final version will be white.
Astronauts have to wear white when on the moon to reflect heat and protect themselves from high temperatures.
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