And of course, all these loads could potentially be applied concurrently, so the suit must be very strong with high factors of safety. The challenge is to achieve this goal without an excessive number of sizes—mass and storage space are both highly valuable commodities in a space launch. Gloves used for EVA are usually custom fit to the astronaut.
Consider how distracting a pebble in your shoe can be over a short period of time, especially if you are working hard and sweating a lot. Such a circumstance is not desirable for an astronaut who is performing complex tasks in a life-threatening environment. As with most protective equipment, the requirements are at odds. A strong suit is needed to withstand all the loads and environmental stresses, but at the same time the wearer does not want to feel like he or she is wearing a space suit.
The ability to perform dexterous work flawlessly is essential. This conjunction is where the challenge in design lies. Space suits are really single-occupant spacecraft. They consist of an articulated anthropomorphic pressure vessel that conforms to the wearer, known as the space suit assembly, and a portable life support system that typically looks like a backpack. Much of the surface area of the space suit is made from softgoods, layers of textiles and flexible membranes See figure below. They are sewn and thermally bonded together to make an airtight vessel that is pressurized with pure oxygen to The result is similar in composition to a football or basketball.
The suit consists of three major layers: the bladder that contains the oxygen, the restraint that provides the structure, and the thermal and micrometeoroid layer that provides protection from the environments. Each of these assemblies performs specific functions and operates independently, but they must collectively function as a single unit to help maintain the breathing atmosphere, pressure, and temperature necessary to protect the astronauts from the space environment.
Together, a total thickness of less than one-tenth of an inch protects the astronaut from space.
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Chilled water is passed through the tubing to remove body heat and keep the astronaut comfortable. The two layers wick perspiration from the body, which is then evaporated by airflow from the portable life-support system. Next come the bladder and restraint layers. The bladder layer consists of thermally bonded, impermeable polyurethane-coated nylon to contain the pressurized oxygen in the space suit and prevent moisture transmission to the vacuum-exposed side of the suit, where it would cause uncontrollable cooling via evaporation.
The bladder and restraint are specially designed to include highly flexible joints that provide the astronaut as much mobility as possible. The materials are formulated to withstand the rigors of constant flexing while pressurized, and abrasion from the relative motion of the layers of the suit. The restraint layer also withstands the stress of pressurization and other types of loading, maintains the human form, and keeps the bladder from ballooning.
It is assembled from sewn patterns just like everyday clothing and is manufactured from polyester fabric. A layer-by-layer illustration of all the components of a space suit highlights the necessary complexity of the system. Although designs are regularly updated, the central concept of each vital component remains largely consistent over time. The outer assembly of the space suit, the thermal and micrometeoroid layer, protects the astronaut from small, hypervelocity particle impacts and the thermal effects of solar radiation or lack thereof.
It is made from orthofabric, which is three-dimensionally woven to have white Gore-tex on the exterior and fire-retarding fibers with a ballistic-rated polymer ripstop on the interior.
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The Gore-tex is slippery to prevent friction between parts of the suit during movement and to facilitate mobility. Its color also limits the absorption of solar energy. The orthofabric also is designed to break up the hypervelocity particles, and turns them into gas jets that are absorbed by a coating on the nylon layer. In addition to the softgoods, the suit has a number of metal and composite components that aid mobility and attachment of various parts of the suit.
Ball bearings are located at the arm, shoulder, wrist, and waist. Metal rings with locking mechanisms called disconnects are used at the neck to attach the helmet, the wrist to attach the gloves, and at the waist to allow the astronaut to get in and out of the suit. The first U.
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Spacewalks were conducted during Project Gemini, but the space suits used were modified high-altitude flight suits that were attached to the capsule by an umbilical and had limited mobility. Suits were worn during Project Mercury flights but were only required for protection against capsule depressurization.
The Apollo space suit went through several versions but the most well known was the A7LB, which was used for the lunar landings and on the Skylab space station.
This suit was worn during all mission phases launch, EVA, landing , and was custom made for each astronaut. It had an active life of just one mission. It was designed to have good upper body mobility, and to facilitate walking on the lunar surface and driving of the lunar rover.
This suit was designed to have excellent upper body mobility so the astronaut could move around easily in the Shuttle bay and perform work while in foot restraints. Upgraded during the s to facilitate operations on the International Space Station, this suit is still in service today.
However, this extended use was not the original plan. As the Space Station was being designed, new space suits were developed that could operate at higher pressures of The pre-breathing purged the body of nitrogen that could cause the bends bubbles in body tissues while operating at suddenly lowered atmospheric pressures.
In , a record was set for a high-altitude parachute jump, from a height of 41, meters. Humans cannot breathe nor survive unprotected at such altitudes, so the jumper required a specially built suit.
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The StratEx suit was more highly pressurized than standard space suits, but still required the wearer to undergo four hours of pre-breathing oxygen to purge the body of nitrogen that could cause bubbles to form in body tissues. Photograph courtesy of Paragon Space Development Corporation. Around , when NASA was gearing up for new programs that would return humans to the surface of the Moon or possibly Mars, our team began developing an advanced model called an I-Suit, designed to have improved mobility, facilitate walking in a gravitational environment, and interface with rovers.
Two versions had rear-entry hatches for rapid donning and doffing in the spacecraft or through a suit port that attached the suits to the exterior of the spacecraft. The I-Suit technology became the basis for the current EVA space suits under development, including the suit used in the record-setting StratEx high-altitude parachute jump from a height of 41, meters in Others under development are the Z-Suits and the Constellation Space Suit, both of which are designed to shorten preparation time, increase flexibility, and potentially be used on extended planetary missions.
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It takes hundreds of incredibly skilled people, including project managers, engineers, and technicians, to design and manufacture space suits. Much of the team responsible for the EVA space suit currently used on the ISS has been together for decades, with their knowledge base rooted in learning from the Apollo space suit team. Like many engineered products, much of the know-how required to realize the product is embedded in people rather than books or journals. This information has enabled decades of spacewalks without any anomalies that have led to loss of life.
A wide variety of materials and manufacturing processes are used to fabricate space suits. For the softgoods portions alone gloves, arms, legs, and other parts , fabricators use sewing, thermal welding, radio-frequency welding, bonding, dipping, and taping, to name a few.
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For the rigid components bearings, helmets, boot soles, and so forth , fabricators machine, blow-mold, injection mold, and compression mold, among many other techniques. The equipment used is calibrated and constantly monitored to maintain precision. The steps to make every component are detailed in work instructions for uniformity, and the parts being manufactured are inspected at numerous points during their manufacturing cycle.
Everything is controlled and monitored throughout the entire process, all the way back to the machines used to make the materials that are part of the space suit. However, none of the machines or process controls would matter without the dedication and skill of the operators. Astronaut Scott Parazynski visited the manufacturing floor where the sewing occurs prior to his first of five Space Shuttle flights, to thank the team that was making his suit.
Some parts of the suit are manufactured with long-established techniques, and others use state-of-the-art equipment and processes. The process to produce the gloves used on the ISS is as high-tech as it gets in protective equipment. The data are loaded into computer-aided design CAD software. The data are manipulated with special algorithms to provide the needed easements between the hand and inner wall of the glove in all positions, as local circumferences change when muscles flex. Restraint patterns are then created directly from the CAD model.
Parts are cut using the patterns and then stitched together using sewing machines, or by hand for tight-tolerance components. Then, stereolithography—a type of 3D printing that builds up a model layer by layer by curing a resin with an ultraviolet laser—is used to create a physical model of the CAD glove form.