WASHINGTON, August 25, 2017 — He fell from an April sky in 1961, frightening a mother and daughter as he approached. It must have been his bright orange flight suit, white helmet and the parachute dragging behind him that alarmed the pair.
“I told them, ‘Don’t be afraid, I am a Soviet like you, who has descended from space and I must find a telephone to call Moscow,” said the world’s first astronaut, Yuri Gagarin.
Space suits have evolved considerably since the Russian SK-1 pressurized suit, but they have maintained a rather bulky look. All that girth protects the astronaut from sudden cabin depressurization, while those made for spacewalking have layers of material designed to shield the astronaut from impacting micro-meteoroids that could tear a hole in the space garment, exposing the wearer to the vacuum of space.
Adding to the bulk are the plastic tubes that run throughout the suit to regulate the astronaut’s body temperature. And then there is the 3.5 pounds of air pressure that make the astronaut look like the Michelin Man.
Well, those days may soon be over.
Billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk issued a brief announcement through Instagram on Thursday that his company SpaceX, whose Dragon spacecraft resupply the International Space Station, has developed a more form-fitting space suit for use with his company’s future manned spacecraft, the Crew Dragon.
“Worth noting that this actually works,” insisted Musk. “Already tested to double vacuum pressure. Was incredibly hard to balance aesthetics and function.”
With aesthetics in mind, the Boeing Corporation released photos of its form-fitting Starliner space suit, which may be superior to NASA’s current version, but makes its wearer look a lot like cartoonist Ben Edlund’s superhero The Tick.
SpaceX has announced that two customers have already paid to make the roughly half-million-mile journey to circumnavigate the moon sometime in 2018.
“This presents an opportunity for humans to return to deep space for the first time in 45 years,” said SpaceX, “and they will travel faster and further into the solar system than any before them … an important milestone as we work towards our ultimate goal of transporting humans to Mars.”
And they’ll have new, fashion-forward spacesuits for the long journey. As designer Ralph Lauren once said, “I don’t design clothes. I design dreams.”