Blue, it appears, is the new orange, at least when it comes to space suits. The bulky NASA ones of the days of the space shuttle are now a thing of the past, as Boeing has unveiled a new model.
The sleeker, more flexible piece of spacecraft tailoring is part of the aeronautics company’s Starliner system, a next-generation piece of kit designed specifically for astronauts to wear on journeys to and from the International Space Station, and maybe even beyond.
The brains behind the new suit design come from former astronaut Chris Ferguson, the director of Boeing’s Starliner Crew & Mission Systems programme, and lead designer Shane Jacobs.
“Astronauts had formerly had these relatively bulky, heavy suits with thick neck rings. And we learned throughout the years that maybe we didn’t need that,” Ferguson explained in a Boeing video. “We’ve simplified the suit. It’s lightweight.”
Advancing astronaut apparel
During the era of the NASA’s space shuttle programme, running from 1981 to 2011, a typical space suit weighed almost 15kg, while Boeing’s new model shaves off almost two thirds of that, coming in at 5.4kg.
Other features include gloves enabled with touchscreen-sensitive material, a helmet and visor built into the design, and greater mobility at the elbows and knees. Vents in the suit also allow water vapour to escape, but keep oxygen in, meaning the internal temperature won’t rise like in the previous designs.
The suits are specifically designed to be worn in Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft, which will see its first test flight take off in 2018.