Spacesuits of the future are going to do much more than just keep us alive – they’re going to make us look damn good. Because clearly, the most important thing when landing on other planets is that we look extra cool doing it.
Multiple outlets are reporting that in the contract SpaceX has with Orbital Outfitters, a company founded by a Hollywood prop artist, they explicitly specified that the new spacesuits must look “badass”.
To be fair, the current Michelin man suits look anything but badass. But this tall order is what’s pushing engineers and scientists to create spacesuits that are both functional and fashionable.
“Our spacesuit design is finally coming together and will also be unveiled later this year. We are putting a lot of effort into design aesthetics, not just utility. It needs to both look like a 21st-century spacesuit and work well,” said Elon Musk, SpaceX’s CEO, in his Reddit AMA.
These designs almost certainly won’t be cheap. The current Extravehicular Activity (EVA) suit (which protects astronauts from radiation, extreme temperatures, as well as ebullism, a dangerous condition that happens when air bubbles form in your body’s fluids due to low-pressure environments) cost NASA some $12 million per suit. And that’s without accounting for style.
The Intra-Vehicular Activity (IVA) suit, on the other hand, which astronauts wear during launches, costs just $180,000. Since the 1980s, the trend has been to keep the two types of suits separate, but some crossover designs do exist, like the ones used on the Apollo, Gemini, and Skylab missions.
One of the main complaints about the gas-pressurised suits that were employed by the US and Russia was that they were too heavy, weighing as much as 136 kilos.
Still, Musk isn’t the only person who wants us to look extra spiffy in space. Back in April 2014, NASA announced their design of the Z-2 space suit prototype, that served as a ground basis for engineers working on the suits that would launch with the first manned mission to Mars. But, as you can see, it’s anything but badass.
Image via: JPL/NASA
That’s where Ted Southern, co-founder of the Final Frontier Design (FFD), a company that designs and manufactures both space and commercial garments, comes in. Aside from fact that he’s built the famous angel wings for the Victoria’s Secret fashion shows, and may seem like an odd choice, he argues that his unique background will bring a different perspective.
The Final Frontier Design’s third-generation suit, the 3G Mark 2. Photo via: Lawrence Lucier/Final Frontier Design
“In costuming you’re working with the human body a lot so you have a very body centric way of thinking about assemblies”, Southern told Slate. “The closer you can get to the human body in terms of shape and look, the sexier it’s going to be.”
And if everything goes accordingly for Southern, this will be the second time he’s worked for NASA. Teaming up with FFD chief engineer and designer Nikolay Moiseev, the duo entered NASA’s 2009 Astronaut Glove Challenge. Their close-fitting pressurised gloves were a significant improvement over NASA’s then-in-use models; they impressed NASA enough to win a fixed-price contract of $100,000 to create the gloves by the next year.
The Advanced EVA, Double Layer IVA, and the Single Layer IVA gloves by FFD. Photos via: Final Frontier Design
Southern and Moiseev want to design a new suit that’ll be affordable, lightweight, comfortable, and of course, attractive. Their goal is to make this suit cost about $80,000, which is $100,000 less than the current IVA suits. The duo is confident that their work will be a valuable guideline for spacesuit designs in the future.
Earlier in 2015, it was said that the new SpaceX suit would be revealed toward the end of the year. Which means, any day now. So what do you think it’ll look like? Are we thinking the design will resemble the sporty suit in Ridley Scott’s The Martian, or will it more recall those futuristic body-hugging suits in Prometheus? [Slate]
Feature Image via: JPL/NASA