3-D spacesuits: The evolution from Mercury and Apollo 11 to Space X
How to dress for space
The Mercury suits developed for flights in the 1960s were modeled after the suits worn by military pilots after World War II. The pilots were beginning to fly at higher altitudes and needed a pressurized suit that could keep oxygen flowing and protect the pilots in the case of a high-altitude ejection. The Mercury suits were not designed to operate in the vacuum of space, but rather to help the astronauts in the case of an emergency.
The helmet was designed to be tight fitting so that if the astronaut moved his head, the communications equipment inside the helmet would move with him.
This suit could be from any country, really. You take away the patch there and there is nothing that screams U.S. or that looks particularly patriotic. When I look at it, it seems like it is advertising technology, not advertising patriotism.
The harness that stretches across the chest was used to help secure the astronaut to his seat and hold him tight through the vibrations he would experience in flight.
This silver sets the ground rules for how we imagine spacesuits to be — everything that we think is futuristic is always silver and reflective. Whenever there would be anything related to the future in fashion shows and people imagining what the next century would look like, they always started with metallic fabrics.
The suit was silver for a number of reasons, according to Cathleen Lewis, a curator in the Space History Department of the National Air and Space Museum. First, it would make the astronauts stand out in case they needed to be rescued. It helped reflect sunlight and keep them from heating up, especially in the outer edges of the atmosphere, where the sunlight is unfiltered. Finally, NASA really wanted to set these guys apart from the other pilots with a very space-agey silvery suit.
The gloves are currently stored detached from the suit and not included in the 3-D model. They had lights on the fingertips so that in an emergency, when the lights in the spacecraft went out, they would be able to illuminate the instruments and control panel.
The biometric connector was used to monitor the astronaut’s vital signs — such as heart rate and body temperature — to see how they responded to the conditions of microgravity. At the time, NASA had never sent a person into space and didn’t really have a sense of the effects of space travel on the human body. You could see the nervousness and how scared they were about sending these guys to space in the suit — it looks over engineered, there are all these straps because they worried about anything that could possibly go wrong in an uncharted territory.
I love these boots, they remind me of Doc Martens, of work boots. But they seem so complicated to get into. Everything seems so complicated to get into, the exact opposite of this idea of aerodynamics of space travel. This looks like someone heavy, earthbound, slogging through something.
The Apollo suits worn by the astronauts on the lunar surface were “essentially a spacecraft that is human form and human fitted,” said Cathleen Lewis, a curator in the Space History Department of the National Air and Space Museum. The suits were designed to keep astronauts alive outside their spacecraft. Custom made for each astronaut, the suits were based on 47 measurements and tested repeatedly. What you see here is “probably the closest thing of a body print of Neil Armstrong,” Lewis said.
For Apollo, NASA needed a more robust helmet than the kinds used during the Mercury and Gemini missions, one that allowed the astronauts to see their feet. This is important “especially if you’re walking on strange new territory,” Lewis said.
The metallic gold visors could be pulled down. Lewis called them “oversized ski goggles.”
You can’t really see their face, their name is so small, they were not even trying to turn the astronauts into personalities. Which would be so natural now, just as a way of ginning up interest and getting people excited, by having a personal connection.
Unlike mission patches for other flights, the Apollo 11 patch did not have the names of the crew members. Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins felt their names should be left out because the flight represented all of humankind and the 400,000 people involved in the Apollo program.
Tubes connected to the suits through these nozzles served as connections to life support systems and communication and electrical systems, as well as water to help moderate body temperature.
Armstrong left his backpack on the moon in order to ensure that the ascent module was well below its weight limit, Lewis said. The pack contained the astronaut’s life support system, which provided a supply of oxygen while also taking carbon dioxide away.
I love that there was so much attention paid to the idea that we are doing this for peace, for exploration and for scientific discovery. Despite how big and potentially intimidating this suit could be, it is not, it looks like a happy uniform. And the patches are so Boy Scout.
Moon dust is still visible on the legs and boots.
After the Challenger space shuttle orbiter exploded after launch in 1986, killing all seven astronauts on board, safety became paramount. This shows in the design of the Advanced Crew Escape Suit (ACES), which astronauts started using inside the shuttle in the mid-1990s during liftoff and return to Earth.
They look much more like something you could envision a Navy SEAL wearing, or a NASCAR driver. It doesn’t have that otherworldly silver what-could-that-possibly-be aspect to it. And the helmet looks like something a motorcyclist would wear.
Often referred to as the “pumpkin suit” because of its color, the suit is orange so that in case of emergency astronauts could be easily spotted.
The suit came with a survival backpack loaded with parachutes, flotation devices, drinking water and even emergency oxygen supplies.
Astronauts were able to take off their gloves without losing pressure in the suit, so they could work the controls of the shuttle in flight.
Anything that is not nailed down floats away in space. Astronauts need pockets to stash pens or other objects so they don’t lose them.
This suit reminds me of a military uniform. I think it’s the boots; they look like a camouflage-y shade of olive or gray. Also, compared to the previous suits, it doesn’t look as space-ish.
There’s nothing cool about it, there is nothing surprising, nothing that some kid would look at and have their imagination sparked by it. It is so mundane that all you have to do is go to the local construction worker uniform store and buy one and stick a motorcycle helmet on it and you have the suit.
The Boeing suit was designed to be as light as possible, about the same “weight and complexity as a flight suit,” said Shane Jacobs, spacesuit design manager with the David Clark Co., which made the suit for Boeing. With gloves, boots and head protection, the suit weighs 16 pounds, almost half the weight of the orange shuttle suit. Astronauts will wear it throughout launch and ascent into orbit, and on the way back to Earth.
This is a soft helmet, which essentially acts as a hood: It can be unzipped and allowed to flop down the astronaut’s back. However, the visor is made of a clear hard material.
This suit doesn’t look special, it reminds me of contemporary men’s sportswear. Instead of looking at the spacesuits and seeing this futuristic idea, it seems that the creators of the suit are taking ideas that already exist in our mundane little gravity-rooted life and transporting them into outer space.
Throughout the suit there are fasteners that will allow the suit to be tweaked to meet the astronauts’ particular dimensions or adjust for different postures.
It still looks male-centric because so much of the language of functional sportswear comes from menswear. Whenever you look at women’s clothes and they are defined as being incredibly functional it’s usually something that could be unisex.
The gloves are designed to be used with a touch screen.
The pocket on the thigh is integrated into the suit, but the ones on the shin are removable.
The pockets are quite fashionable: the more fitted shape, the way they hang off. I feel like I’ve seen that on a runway somewhere.
It seems like this was designed with the thought of knock-offs and derivation in mind. You can see these boots sold out at some hipster sneaker store, in black or silver.
These Reebok boots weigh less than a pound each. They are designed to be comfortable and tight-fitting. The material is fire-retardant, and the sole is non-slipping, like a basketball sneaker.
The whole outfit looks very relatable. Actual astronauts wearing these don’t look heroic as much as they look accessible. The earlier spacesuits seem completely removed from reality, and there was the sense that all the pockets and the little cords hide some complicated technology. With this one, you’re like, “Okay, my iPhone is in this pocket, and I’ve got a Clif Bar in the other one.” It’s just saying “You, too, can do this.”
The SpaceX suit is one piece, with the boots, helmet and gloves all connected — minimalist, efficient, inspiring. A version of this suit has been flown to space on a mannequin in 2018, when SpaceX famously launched a red Tesla Roadster into space aboard the first Falcon Heavy rocket, and again on a mannequin earlier this year in a test flight of the Dragon spacecraft. Astronauts will wear the suit throughout launch and ascent into orbit, and on the way back to Earth.
This is a spacesuit every space tourist wants to wear. It is social-media friendly, you want to take selfies in that. Even the way the helmet is designed, with that black facade, is a little intimidating, but not full Darth Vader.
The helmet is 3-D printed, with padding customized to each astronaut’s head. The visor is designed to give astronauts a broad field of view and can rotate open.
Everything is completely understated, which makes it so cool. If you know that is the SpaceX logo you are inside the club.
The suit’s outer layer is made with fire-retardant materials. The gray parts are Nomex, a flame-resistant material. The whites are a Teflon-like material.
The sides are darker and they create the perfect swimmer’s physique, a silhouette of strength. That is a fashion trick, to create the illusion of a particular shape. It could even turn into an hourglass if you are a woman inside that suit. From all five suits, this one is the most amenable to a woman’s figure.
Zippers on the wrists allow astronauts to use their bare hands on the controls. But the gloves also work with the touch screens inside of SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft.
On the thigh, there is a single location for an umbilical to attach, which provides the life-support system and communications.
The suit is meant to be easy to put on. Instead of a hard-to-reach zipper that runs down the back, the zipper runs inside a seam inside the legs, from one ankle to the other.
Aesthetically, it is sleek and incredibly elegant. With the earlier ones, the technology was so obvious in the suit. They looked complicated, and it took an enormous amount of skill to be able to wear them. This looks so easy to wear, devoid of anything that looks highly technical or complicated.
If you pay a bazillion dollars to go into space and you get this — I’m assuming you get to keep it — you will wear those boots again! It seems you can pull it apart and continue to wear it and keep the bragging rights going.
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About this story
To re-create the spacesuits in 3-D, The Post took 2,500 photos of the original suits and stitched them together through a process called photogrammetry. This involves using an algorithm to analyze the images and find common points to build a 3-D model.
The helmets were modeled manually from reference images, not through photogrammetry.
Additional production by William Neff, Armand Emamdjomeh and Seth Blanchard. Rocket icon by iStock.
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