Spacesuits aren’t just “those grey clothes people wear when they go to space”. They were, in a way, made with the same t shirt printing as custom T-shirts but with more serious intent. They can also be likened to a single-passenger spacecraft as they serve the same purpose – to transport and protect.
NASA calls their official spacesuits as the Extravehicular Mobility Unit or EMU. In simpler terms, it’s a suit that is not essentially a part of the spaceship but is spacious enough to allow the movement of the astronaut within it.
Why Astronauts Need to Wear Spacesuits
Humans are not physically adapted to conditions in outer space. Astronauts will not survive for long if they are not properly equipped for space travel. Spacesuits were designed with the ability to supply the basic needs of astronauts and protect them from space debris, bright sunlight, radiation, and extreme temperatures. If an astronaut were to step out of the spaceship without a suit, he could die within seconds.
Parts of a Spacesuit
A spacesuit consists of different pieces that serve its particular purpose.
The helmet and the extravehicular visor assembly protects the head area and the eyes from harsh light while allowing clear vision.
The hard upper torso, the arm assembly, and the gloves serve as the covering for the upper area of the body while the lower torso assembly covers the legs and the feet.
These parts were made of several layers of various materials; some are flexible while some are hard depending on the intended purpose.
Underneath the solid coverings are liquid cooling and ventilation garments that keep the astronaut’s body in desirable temperatures during spacewalks.
Spacesuits also come with backpacks called the primary life support subsystem which contains the oxygen that will sustain the astronaut. It is also in charge of removing carbon dioxide exhaled from the suit. It also happens to be the source of electrical energy that powers the other life-support systems within the suit.
A device called the SAFER is also attached to the backpack. It’s short for Simplified Aid for Extravehicular Activity Rescue, a device comprised of small thruster jets that astronauts can use if ever they get separated from the spacecraft or station.
With these many parts of a spacesuit, putting it on can take over an hour for an astronaut, and they still need someone to help them out!
Other Types of Spacesuits
NASA astronauts have worn other suits aside from the EMU.
The “pumpkin suit”, which is worn only during space shuttle launches and landings, is called the Advanced Crew Escape Suit or ACES. Its orange color was specifically chosen because it is highly visible in preparation for an Orbiter bailout. It also includes a survival backpack, light sticks, and black paratroopers.
The Orlan Spacesuit is a semi-rigid model used for Russian space programs. It has a solid torso and flexible arms and is now redesigned to be self-sustaining. The earlier models were supplied power and communication through a cord that connected it to the spacecraft.
Another Russian spacesuit is called the Sokol which was designed to be used only inside the shuttle. Its simple design resembles scuba equipment and uses a life support system that is open-circuit. The suit, however, consumes high rates of oxygen and is not sustainable.
Spacesuits had evolved and improved over the years, and this is a sure indication that our best minds are at work to make space exploration safer for our space heroes.