Instead of the bulky orange spacesuits of the space shuttle era, astronauts traveling onboard the new Boeing Starliner capsule will wear blue spacesuits that are significantly lighter and far more comfortable than their predecessors, NASA officials announced earlier this week.
The new “Boeing Blue” spacesuits, unveiled by the US space agency on Wednesday, will weigh approximately 20 pounds (nine kilograms) – 10 pounds (more than four kilograms) less than the old suits, according to Space.com. They will also come equipped with gloves that can be used on touch screens, are more flexible and have soft helmets built directly into the suit itself.
Furthermore, NASA said that the Boeing Blue spacesuits will feature new joint patterns, vents to allow astronauts to remain cooler but which are still capable of pressurizing the suit immediately, and the ability to let water vapor pass seamlessly escape the suit while keeping air inside. Also, a series of zippers will allow astronauts to alter the shape of the suit while sitting or standing.
“The most important part is that the suit will keep you alive,” explained astronaut Eric Boe, who took part in two space shuttle missions and was one of the first astronauts selected to take part in NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. “It is a lot lighter, more form-fitting and it’s simpler, which is always a good thing. Complicated systems have more ways they can break, so simple is better on something like this.”
“The spacesuit acts as the emergency backup to the spacecraft’s redundant life support systems. If everything goes perfectly on a mission, then you don’t need a spacesuit,” added Richard Watson, the Commercial Crew Program’s subsystem manager for spacesuits. “It’s like having a fire extinguisher close by in the cockpit. You need it to be effective if it is needed.”
Suits (and the Starliner itself) expected to see first use in 2018
While the suit is designed to keep astronauts safe should problems arise during the travels, they are not suitable for use during an extravehicular activity (EVA) or spacewalk, Space.com noted. Instead, astronauts will need to use heavier gear known as extravehicular mobility units (EMUs) in those situations, and they are already onboard the International Space Station.
The unveiling of the suits brings Boeing’s Starliner program one step closer to fruition, and the country’s dependence on Russian Soyuz spacecraft for trips to the ISS closer to being a thing of the past. Once ready, the Commercial Crew spacecraft will be able to carry up to four people at a time, which will enable the space station’s crew to be expanded to seven, the agency said.
Moving forward, the astronauts will continue testing their spaceship and equipment as Boe and his colleagues continue to train for the future missions and prepare to take part in flight tests. As of now, Boeing plans to give these new spacesuits their first actual use when they launch for the first time next year, according to TechCrunch.
“To me, it’s a very tangible sign that we are really moving forward and we are a lot closer than we’ve been,” former astronaut Chris Ferguson, who modeled the Boeing Blue spacesuits during the Wednesday announcement event, said in a statement. “The next time we pull all this together, it might be when astronauts are climbing into the actual spacecraft.”
Image credit: Boeing