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A space suit is a garment worn to keep a human alive in the harsh environment of outer space, vacuum and temperature extremes. Space suits are often worn inside spacecraft as a safety precaution in case of loss of cabin pressure, and are necessary for extra-vehicular activity (EVA), work done outside spacecraft. Space suits have been worn for such work in Earth orbit, on the surface of the Moon, and en route back to Earth from the Moon. Modern space suits augment the basic pressure garment with a complex system of equipment and environmental systems designed to keep the wearer comfortable, and to minimize the effort required to bend the limbs, resisting a soft pressure garment's natural tendency to stiffen against the vacuum. A self-contained oxygen supply and environmental control system is frequently employed to allow complete freedom of movement, independent of the spacecraft.

Some of these requirements also apply to pressure suits worn for other specialized tasks, such as high-altitude reconnaissance flight. Above Armstrong's line (around 19,000 m (62,000 ft)), the atmosphere is so thin that pressurized suits are needed.

The first full-pressure suits for use at extreme altitudes were designed by individual inventors as early as the 1930s. The first space suit worn by a human in space was the Soviet SK-1 suit worn by Yuri Gagarin in 1961.

Space suit requirements

A space suit must perform several functions to allow its occupant to work safely and comfortably, inside or outside of a spacecraft. It must provide:

  • A stable internal pressure. This can be less than earth's atmosphere, as there is usually no need for the space suit to carry nitrogen (which comprises about 78% of earth's atmosphere and is not used by the body). Lower pressure allows for greater mobility, but requires the suit occupant to breathe pure oxygen for a time before going into this lower pressure, to avoid decompression sickness.
  • Mobility. Movement is typically opposed by the pressure of the suit; mobility is achieved by careful joint design. See the Theories of space suit design section.
  • Supply of breathable oxygen and elimination of carbon dioxide; these gases are exchanged with the spacecraft or a Portable Life Support System (PLSS)
  • Temperature regulation. Unlike on Earth, where heat can be transferred by convection to the atmosphere, in space, heat can be lost only by thermal radiation or by conduction to objects in physical contact with the exterior of the suit. Since the temperature on the outside of the suit varies greatly between sunlight and shadow, the suit is heavily insulated, and air temperature is maintained at a comfortable level.
  • A communication system, with external electrical connection to the spacecraft or PLSS
  • Means of collecting and containing solid and liquid bodily waste (such as a Maximum Absorbency Garment)

Optional requirements

Additional requirements for EVA include:

As part of astronautical hygiene control (i.e., protecting astronauts from extremes of temperature, radiation, etc.), a space suit is essential for extra-vehicular activity. The Apollo/Skylab A7L suit included eleven layers in all: an inner liner, a LCVG, a pressure bladder, a restraint layer, another liner, and a Thermal Micrometeoroid Garment consisting of five aluminized insulation layers and an external layer of white Ortho-Fabric. This space suit is capable of protecting the astronaut from temperatures ranging from −156 °C (−249 °F) to 121 °C (250 °F).

It is expected that manned exploration of the Moon and Mars will occur within the next two decades. During exploration, there will be the potential for lunar/Martian dust to be retained on the space suit. When the space suit is removed on return to the spacecraft, there will be the potential for the dust to contaminate surfaces and increase the risks of inhalation and skin exposure. Astronautical hygienists are testing materials with reduced dust retention times and the potential to control the dust exposure risks during planetary exploration. Novel ingress/egress approaches, such as suitports, are being explored as well.

In NASA space suits, communications are provided via a cap worn over the head, which includes earphones and a microphone. Due to the coloration of the version used for Apollo and Skylab, which resembled the coloration of the comic strip character Snoopy, these caps became known as "Snoopy caps."

Operating pressure

Generally, to supply enough oxygen for respiration, a space suit using pure oxygen must have a pressure of about 32.4 kPa (240 Torr; 4.7 psi), equal to the 20.7 kPa (160 Torr; 3.0 psi) partial pressure of oxygen in the Earth's atmosphere at sea level, plus 5.3 kPa (40 Torr; 0.77 psi) Template:Chem/link and 6.3 kPa (47 Torr; 0.91 psi) water vapor pressure, both of which must be subtracted from the alveolar pressure to get alveolar oxygen partial pressure in 100% oxygen atmospheres, by the alveolar gas equation.[1] The latter two figures add to 11.6 kPa (87 Torr, 1.7 psi), which is why many modern space suits do not use 20.7 kPa (160 Torr; 3.0 psi), but 32.4 kPa (240 Torr; 4.7 psi) (this is a slight overcorrection, as alveolar partial pressures at sea level are slightly less than the former). In space suits that use 20.7 kPa, the astronaut gets only 20.7 kPa − 11.7 kPa = 9.0 kPa (68 Torr; 1.3 psi) of oxygen, which is about the alveolar oxygen partial pressure attained at an altitude of 1,860 m (6,100 ft) above sea level. This is about 78% of normal sea level pressure, about the same as pressure in a commercial passenger jet aircraft, and is the realistic lower limit for safe ordinary space suit pressurization which allows reasonable capacity for work.

When space suits below a specific operating pressure are used from craft that are pressurized to normal atmospheric pressure (such as the Space Shuttle), this requires astronauts to "pre-breathe" (meaning pre-breathe pure oxygen for a period) before donning their suits and depressurizing in the air lock. This procedure purges the body of dissolved nitrogen, so as to avoid decompression sickness due to rapid depressurization from a nitrogen-containing atmosphere.

Exposure to space without a space suit

The human body can briefly survive the hard vacuum of space unprotected,[2] despite contrary depictions in some popular science fiction. Human flesh expands to about twice its size in such conditions, giving the visual effect of a body builder rather than an overfilled balloon. Consciousness is retained for up to 15 seconds as the effects of oxygen starvation set in. No snap freeze effect occurs because all heat must be lost through thermal radiation or the evaporation of liquids, and the blood does not boil because it remains pressurized within the body. The greatest danger is in attempting to hold one's breath before exposure, as the subsequent explosive decompression can damage the lungs. These effects have been confirmed through various accidents (including in very-high-altitude conditions, outer space and training vacuum chambers).[3][2] Human skin does not need to be protected from vacuum and is gas-tight by itself. Instead, it only needs to be mechanically compressed to retain its normal shape. This can be accomplished with a tight-fitting elastic body suit and a helmet for containing breathing gases, known as a space activity suit (SAS).

Theories of space suit design

A space suit should allow its user natural unencumbered movement. Nearly all designs try to maintain a constant volume no matter what movements the wearer makes. This is because mechanical work is needed to change the volume of a constant pressure system. If flexing a joint reduces the volume of the space suit, then the astronaut must do extra work every time he bends that joint, and he has to maintain a force to keep the joint bent. Even if this force is very small, it can be seriously fatiguing to constantly fight against one's suit. It also makes delicate movements very difficult. The work required to bend a joint is dictated by the formula

W=\int_{V_i}^{V_f} \,P\,dV

where Vi and Vf are respectively the initial and final volume of the joint, P is the pressure in the suit, and W is the resultant work. It is generally true that all suits are more mobile at lower pressures. However, because a minimum internal pressure is dictated by life support requirements, the only means of further reducing work is to minimize the change in volume.

All space suit designs try to minimize or eliminate this problem. The most common solution is to form the suit out of multiple layers. The bladder layer is a rubbery, airtight layer much like a balloon. The restraint layer goes outside the bladder, and provides a specific shape for the suit. Since the bladder layer is larger than the restraint layer, the restraint takes all of the stresses caused by the pressure inside the suit. Since the bladder is not under pressure, it will not "pop" like a balloon, even if punctured. The restraint layer is shaped in such a way that bending a joint causes pockets of fabric, called "gores," to open up on the outside of the joint, while folds called "convolutes" fold up on the inside of the joint. The gores make up for the volume lost on the inside of the joint, and keep the suit at a nearly constant volume. However, once the gores are opened all the way, the joint cannot be bent any further without a considerable amount of work.

In some Russian space suits, strips of cloth were wrapped tightly around the cosmonaut's arms and legs outside the space suit to stop the space suit from ballooning when in space.

The outermost layer of a space suit, the Thermal Micrometeoroid Garment, provides thermal insulation, protection from micrometeoroids, and shielding from harmful solar radiation.

There are four theoretical approaches to suit design:

Soft suits

Soft suits typically are made mostly of fabrics. All soft suits have some hard parts, some even have hard joint bearings. Intra-vehicular activity and early EVA suits were soft suits.

Hard-shell suits

Hard-shell suits are usually made of metal or composite materials and do not use fabric for joints. Hard suits joints use ball bearings and wedge-ring segments similar to an adjustable elbow of a stove pipe to allow a wide range of movement with the arms and legs. The joints maintain a constant volume of air internally and do not have any counter force. Therefore, the astronaut does not need to exert to hold the suit in any position. Hard suits can also operate at higher pressures which would eliminate the need for an astronaut to pre-breathe oxygen to use a 34 kPa (4.9 psi) space suit before an EVA from a 101 kPa (14.6 psi) spacecraft cabin. The joints may get into a restricted or locked position requiring the astronaut to manipulate or program the joint. The NASA Ames Research Center experimental AX-5 hard-shell space suit had a flexibility rating of 95%. The wearer could move into 95% of the positions he or she could while nude.

Hybrid suits

Hybrid suits have hard-shell parts and fabric parts. NASA's Extravehicular Mobility Unit (EMU) uses a fiberglass Hard Upper Torso (HUT) and fabric limbs. ILC Dover's I-Suit replaces the HUT with a fabric soft upper torso to save weight, restricting the use of hard components to the joint bearings, helmet, waist seal, and rear entry hatch. Virtually all workable space suit designs incorporate hard components, particularly at interfaces such as the waist seal, bearings, and in the case of rear-entry suits, the back hatch, where all-soft alternatives are not viable.

Skintight suits

Skintight suits, also known as mechanical counterpressure suits or space activity suits, are a proposed design which would use a heavy elastic body stocking to compress the body. The head is in a pressurized helmet, but the rest of the body is pressurized only by the elastic effect of the suit. This eliminates the constant volume problem, reduces the possibility of a space suit depressurization and gives a very lightweight suit. However, these suits are very difficult to put on and face problems with providing a constant pressure everywhere. Most proposals use the body's natural sweat to keep cool.

Contributing technologies

Related preceding technologies include the gas mask used in World War II, the oxygen mask used by pilots of high flying bombers in World War II, the high altitude or vacuum suit required by pilots of the Lockheed U-2 and SR-71 Blackbird, the diving suit, rebreather, scuba diving gear, and many others.

The development of the spheroidal dome helmet was key in balancing the need for field of view, pressure compensation, and low weight. One inconvenience with some space suits is the head being fixed facing forwards and being unable to turn to look sideways. Astronauts call this effect "alligator head."

High-altitude suits

  • Evgeniy Chertovsky created his full-pressure suit or high-altitude "skafandr" (скафандр) in 1931. (скафандр also means "diving apparatus").
  • Emilio Herrera Linares designed and built a full-pressure suit "escafandra estratonáutica" in 1935, which was to have been used during an open-basket balloon stratospheric flight scheduled for early 1936.[4]
  • Wiley Post experimented with a number of pressure suits for record-breaking flights.
  • Russell Colley created the space suits worn by the Project Mercury astronauts, including fitting Alan Shepard for his ride as America's first man in space on May 5, 1961.

Space suit models of historical significance

Soviet and Russian suit models

United States suit models

  • In the early 1950s, Siegfried Hansen and colleagues at Litton Industries designed and built a working hard-shell suit, which was used inside vacuum chambers and was the predecessor of space suits used in NASA missions.[5]
  • Navy Mark IV high-altitude/vacuum suit used for Project Mercury (1961–1963).
  • Gemini space suits (1965–1966), there were three main variants developed: G3C designed for intra-vehicle use; G4C specially designed for EVA and intra-vehicle use; and a special G5C suit worn by the Gemini 7 crew for 14 days inside the spacecraft.
  • Manned Orbital Laboratory MH-7 space suits for the canceled MOL program.
  • Apollo Block I A1C suit (1966–1967) was a derivative of the Gemini suit, worn by primary and backup crews in training for two early Apollo missions. The nylon pressure garment melted and burned through in the Apollo 1 cabin fire. This suit became obsolete when manned Block I Apollo flights were discontinued after the fire.
  • Apollo/Skylab A7L EVA and Moon suits. The Block II Apollo suit was the primary pressure suit worn for eleven Apollo flights, three Skylab flights, and the US astronauts on the Apollo–Soyuz Test Project between 1968 and 1975. The pressure garment's nylon outer layer was replaced with fireproof Beta cloth after the Apollo 1 fire. This suit was the first to employ a liquid-cooled inner garment and outer micrometeroid garment.
  • Shuttle Ejection Escape Suit used from STS-1 (1981) to STS-4 (1982) by a two-man crew used in conjunction with the then-installed ejection seats. Derived from a USAF model.[6] These were removed once the Shuttle became certified.
  • From STS-5 (1982) to STS-25 (1986) no pressure suits were worn during launch and reentry. The crew would wear only a blue-flight suit with an oxygen helmet.
  • Launch Entry Suit first used on STS-26 (1988), the first flight after the Challenger disaster. It was a partial pressure suit derived from a USAF model.[7] It was used from 1988 to 1998.
  • Advanced Crew Escape Suit used on the Space Shuttle starting in 1994.[8] The Advanced Crew Escape Suit or ACES suit, is a full-pressure suit worn by all Space Shuttle crews for the ascent and entry portions of flight. The suit is a direct descendant of the United States Air Force high-altitude pressure suits worn by SR-71 Blackbird and U-2 spy plane pilots, North American X-15 and Gemini pilot-astronauts, and the Launch Entry Suits worn by NASA astronauts starting on the STS-26 flight. It is derived from a USAF model.
  • Extravehicular Mobility Unit (EMU) used on both the Space Shuttle and International Space Station (ISS). The EMU is an independent anthropomorphic system that provides environmental protection, mobility, life support, and communications for a Space Shuttle or ISS crew member to perform an EVA in earth orbit. Used from 1982 to present.

Chinese suit models

  • Shuguang space suit. First generation EVA space suit developed by China for the 1967 canceled Project 714 manned space program. With a mass of about 10 kilograms (20 lb), of orange colour, made of high-resistance multi-layers polyester fabric. The astronaut could use it inside the cabin and conduct an EVA as well.[9][10][11]
  • Project 863 space suit. Cancelled project of second generation Chinese EVA space suit.[12]
  • Shenzhou IVA (神舟) space suit. The suit was first worn by Yang Liwei on Shenzhou 5, the first manned Chinese space flight, it closely resembles a Sokol-KV2 suit, but it is believed to be a Chinese-made version rather than an actual Russian suit.[13][14] Pictures show that the suits on Shenzhou 6 differ in detail from the earlier suit, they are also reported to be lighter.[15]
  • Haiying (海鹰号航天服) EVA space suit. The imported Russian Orlan-M EVA suit is called Haiying. Used on Shenzhou 7.
  • Feitian (飞天号航天服) EVA space suit. New generation indigenously developed Chinese-made EVA space suit also used for the Shenzhou 7 mission.[16] The suit was designed for a spacewalk mission of up to seven hours.[17] Chinese astronauts have been training in the out-of-capsule space suits since July 2007, and movements are seriously restricted in the suits, with a mass of more than 110 kilograms each.[18]

Emerging technologies

Several companies and universities are developing technologies and prototypes which represent improvements over current space suits.

Mark III

The Mark III is a NASA prototype, constructed by ILC Dover, which incorporates a hard lower torso section and a mix of soft and hard components. The Mark III is markedly more mobile than previous suits, despite its high operating pressure (57 kPa or 8.3 psi), which makes it a "zero-prebreathe" suit, meaning that astronauts would be able to transition directly from a one atmosphere, mixed-gas space station environment, such as that on the International Space Station, to the suit, without risking decompression sickness, which can occur with rapid depressurization from an atmosphere containing nitrogen or another inert gas.


The I-Suit is a space suit prototype also constructed by ILC Dover, which incorporates several design improvements over the EMU, including a weight-saving soft upper torso. Both the Mark III and the I-Suit have taken part in NASA's annual Desert Research and Technology Studies (D-RATS) field trials, during which suit occupants interact with one another, and with rovers and other equipment.


Bio-Suit is a space activity suit under development at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, which as of 2006 consists of several lower leg prototypes. Bio-suit is custom fit to each wearer, using laser body scanning.


The MX-2 is a space suit analogue constructed at the University of Maryland's Space Systems Laboratory. The MX-2 is used for manned neutral buoyancy testing at the Space Systems Lab's Neutral Buoyancy Research Facility. By approximating the work envelope of a real EVA suit, without meeting the requirements of a flight-rated suit, the MX-2 provides an inexpensive platform for EVA research, compared to using EMU suits at facilities like NASA's Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory.

The MX-2 has an operating pressure of 2.5–4 psi. It is a rear-entry suit, featuring a fiberglass HUT. Air, LCVG cooling water, and power are open loop systems, provided through an umbilical. The suit contains a Mac mini computer to capture sensor data, such as suit pressure, inlet and outlet air temperatures, and heart rate.[19] Resizable suit elements and adjustable ballast allow the suit to accommodate subjects ranging in height from 68 to 75 inches (170–190 cm), and with a weight range of 120 lb (54 kg).[20]

North Dakota suit

Beginning in May 2006 five North Dakota colleges collaborated on a new space suit prototype, funded by a USD$100,000 grant from NASA, to demonstrate technologies which could be incorporated into a planetary suit. The suit was tested in the Theodore Roosevelt National Park badlands of western North Dakota. The suit has a mass of 47 pounds (21 kg) without a life support backpack, and costs only a fraction of the standard USD$12,000,000 cost for a flight-rated NASA space suit.[21] The suit was developed in just over a year by students from the University of North Dakota, North Dakota State, Dickinson State, the state College of Science and Turtle Mountain Community College.[22] The mobility of the North Dakota suit can be attributed to its low operating pressure; while the North Dakota suit was field tested at a pressure of 1 psi (6.9 kPa; 52 Torr) differential, NASA's EMU suit operates at a pressure of 4.7 psi (32 kPa; 240 Torr), a pressure designed to supply approximately sea-level oxygen partial pressure for respiration (see discussion above).


Since 2009, the Austrian Space Forum[23] has been developing "Aouda.X," an experimental Mars analogue space suit focusing on an advanced human-machine interface and on-board computing network to increase situational awareness. The suit is designed to study contamination vectors in planetary exploration analogue environments and create limitations depending on the pressure regime chosen for a simulation.

Since 2012, for the Mars2013 analogue mission[24] by the Austrian Space Forum to Erfoud, Morocco, the Aouda.X analogue space suit has a sister in the form of Aouda.S.[25] This is a slightly less sophisticated suit meant primarily to assist Aouda.X operations and be able to study the interactions between two (analogue) astronauts in similar suits.

The Aouda.X and Aouda.S space suits have been named after the fictional princess from the Jules Verne's 1873 novel Around the World in Eighty Days and can be followed on Facebook.[26] A public display mock-up of Aouda.X (called Aouda.D) is currently on display at the Dachstein Ice Cave in Obertraun, Austria, after the experiments done there in 2012.[27]

NASA Constellation Space Suit system

On August 2, 2006, NASA indicated plans to issue a Request for Proposal (RFP) for the design, development, certification, production, and sustaining engineering of the Constellation Space Suit to meet the needs of the Constellation Program.[28] NASA foresees a single suit capable of supporting: survivability during launch, entry and abort; zero-gravity EVA; lunar surface EVA; and Mars surface EVA.

On June 11, 2008, NASA awarded a USD$745 million contract to Oceaneering International to create the new space suit.[29]


A suitport is a theoretical alternative to an airlock, designed for use in hazardous environments and in human spaceflight, especially planetary surface exploration. In a suitport system, a rear-entry space suit is attached and sealed against the outside of a spacecraft, such that an astronaut can enter and seal up the suit, then go on EVA, without the need for an airlock or depressurizing the spacecraft cabin. Suitports require less mass and volume than airlocks, provide dust mitigation, and prevent cross-contamination of the inside and outside environments. Patents for suitport designs were filed in 1996 by Philip Culbertson Jr. of NASA's Ames Research Center and in 2003 by Joerg Boettcher, Stephen Ransom, and Frank Steinsiek.[30][31]

Astronaut Glove Challenge

There are certain difficulties in designing a dexterous space suit glove and there are limitations to the current designs. So to build a better glove the Centennial Astronaut Glove Challenge was created. Competitions have been held in 2007 and 2009, and another is planned. The 2009 contest required the glove to be covered with a micro-meteorite layer.

Space suits in fiction

The oldest space fiction ignored the problems of traveling through a vacuum, and launched its heroes through space without any special protection. In the later 19th century, however, a more realistic brand of space fiction emerged, in which authors have tried to describe or depict the space suits worn by their characters. These fictional suits vary in appearance and technology, and range from the highly authentic to the utterly improbable.

A very early fictional account of space suits can be seen in Garrett P. Serviss' novel Edison's Conquest of Mars (1898). Later comic book series such as Buck Rogers (1930s) and Dan Dare (1950s) also featured their own takes on space suit design. Science fiction authors such as Robert A. Heinlein contributed to the development of fictional space suit concepts.

See also



External links

  • A Field Guide to American Spacecraft. A list compiled by Lee Sledge and James H. Gerard of American space suits and the museum locations where they are displayed.
  • Encyclopedia Astronautica. A complete listing of space suits.
  • NPP Zvezda
  • Nauka i Zhizn, No. 6, 1978.
  • Johnson Space Center See link near page end to Walking to Olympus: An EVA Chronology (PDF).
  • National Space Development Agency of Japan (NASDA) (2001)
  • "Analysis of the Space Shuttle Extravehicular Mobility Unit – 1986" (PDF)
  • "NASA Space Shuttle EVA tools and equipment reference book – 1993" (PDF)
  • "Space Suit Evolution From Custom Tailored to Off-the-Rack (PDF)
  • Apollo Lunar Surface Journal. Section on the Apollo space suit and the Portable Life Support System.
  • Historic Spacecraft
  • "Spacesuit and Spacewalk History Image Gallery" at NASA
  • English
  • ILC Dover
  • In April 2011, the VOA "The Evolution of Spacesuits".
  • "Helmet Oddity" on YouTube (03:27)
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