Category Space Suit of the Week

Space Suit of the Week

This is a sad one.

The technological marvel of space travel can easily compel us past the murky bits that distract from sheer cosmic amazement. But the accomplishments of space agencies are built on graveyards of brave and curious people; people with families and loved ones who can’t look at the moon anymore without seeing through microscopic particles they used to know. On the big and small screen, it’s a pretty common device to learn of bad news through the reaction of a spouse or loved one to unexpected visitors; but I’ve never thought about the looks on the faces of folks who watched space travel go wrong. The music video for “Yulia” by Wolf Parade is about such reactions.

The video is sad, but powerful in a way that lends credit to Director Scott Coffey, who makes a cameo as cosmonaut #3. I really like this video, but did I mention that it’s sad?

Alex

Space Suit of the Week

This week’s Space Suit could easily be confused with a clown suit thanks to Remi Gaillard: the French brother of Tom Foolery. Remi, apparently, loves to interrupt people with short tempers. It’s surprising how quickly and easily irate these golfers get. Is this normal for golfers…to try and strike down with clubs anything that interrupts their golf game? I would be delighted if someone interrupted my life wearing a space suit and bouncy shoes.

What the golfers may not know is that American Astronaut Alan Shepard knocked around some balls on the moon during the Apollo 14 mission in 1971. His first swing didn’t go so well since Space Suits are designed to keep folks from dying in the vacuum of space more than they are intended to help folks “follow through at the hips” so Shepard had to golf with one hand, which is awkward. Somewhere on the moon the golf balls he launched using a modified shovel are still patiently waiting for someone to pull them out of the dust and pick up a game; heaven forbid that game be interrupted by some prankster planting flags.

Can you imagine how far someone could throw things at people if they were on the moon?

Alex

Big thanks to Rae from Canada for suggesting the video this week, and big thanks to her little brother for sharing the video with Rae’s family during Canadian Thanksgiving which happened this past Monday.

Space Suit of the Week

The current issue of the Oxford American is all the about the future. If you’re unfamiliar with the Oxford American, it is a quarterly literary magazine that focuses on southern writers and culture. So why bring it up? While there are definitely stories by southern writers and about southern culture in this issue, it addresses questions that are larger than the region.For instance, the above illustration is featured in an excellent essay by Robert Zimmerman about the future of manned space mission in the United States. It’s easy to get lost in the awe of how we get into space, but Zimmerman argues there are strong reason why we should go into space and spread American democracy throughout the cosmos. At risk? Goldilocks planets becoming “hellholes of tyranny and oppression.”

But that’s not the only story in the current issue, there’s also a  features about a Buckminster Fuller dome in Baton Rouge written in hexagonally-composed prose; a story about the redevelopment of a museum designed by Frank Gehry that Hurricane Katrina squashed with a floating casino; a Jack Pendarvis piece called “I Don’t Hate It! Larry King and Lady Gaga are the Same, and other signs of the coming apocalypse.” Plus others.

Most importantly, I found this week’s Space Suit of the Week in the Oxford Amerian: a poster created in 1980 for this Chinese Space Program with the title: Bringing his Playmates to the Stars. Sadly, It looks like the cat isn’t playing nice and is hoarding all the Fancy Feast.

Alex

Space Suit of the Week


I’m such a liar; we aren’t even looking at a space suit this week. But what this should really be called sounds dumb: the space suit precursor of patented naval redundancy engineering… of the week. Let’s just call it the Patented Engineering by the Navy Intended for Space (P.E.N.I.S.) of the week.

I’m still a liar. The above suit was never intended for elevations beyond the airspace traversed by high-altitude jets (called uncontrolled airspace at elevations above 60,000 feet), and at such altitudes air is so thin that calling it airspace is really just another lie. The suit above is designed to protect pilots flying around in such an air(less)space.  And yet, the suit is redundant by design. The primary means of protection from the dangerously low ambient pressure at 70,000 feet is the pressurized cabin. But things can go wrong, so the protection from decompression is duplicated by means of a pressure suit like the one above.

The idea to engineer “back up plans” into a system is called redundancy. Interestingly enough, in some vital systems aboard the space shuttle, components are not merely duplicated but triplicated. This means that three independent components would have to fail sequentially for the overall system to fail.

What began as a redundant protection for pilots became the basis for the suits worn by astronauts during the Mercury mission and for Gemini mission. It is absolutely insane how quickly the technology that enabled us to fly higher and higher evolved. Just 66 years before Neil Armstrong took a small step, the Wright brothers took a wobbly, but controlled flight across some field in North Carolina. In the six and a half decades between the two events, we learned how to not only travel the nearly 240,000 miles to the moon, but how to leave our biosphere and return safely to it.

And P.E.N.I.S. helped.

Alex

P.S. Big thanks to Matt for suggesting this week’s suit! And big thanks to John, a friend who attended the Air Force Academy and helped explain airspace terminology to me. He also reminded me that any airspace above 10,000 feet is dangerous.

Space Suit of the Week

The above illustration (by Ed Emshwiller) is from the 1958 novel Have Space Suit – Will Travel by Robert Heinlein. The story centers around Kip, a young lad eager to get to the moon, but plagued by a mediocre public school system that fails to launch him into an academic trajectory likely to lead to Mare Tranquilllitatis. With a heapin’ helpin’ of hard work, and a dash of luck, Kip teaches himself Calculus, wins a space suit from a soap company and is abducted by aliens while wearing his space suit in his back yard. You might say “Gee whiz, thanks aliens!” but Kip ends up being sequestered to Pluto where he blows his captors up.

Yesterday, real-life retired astronaut, Dr. Sally Ride answered questions from the White House about the importance of Mathematics and Sciences to high school students. When asked what single class most helped to prepare her for NASA and the Space Shuttle, Sally cited “Calculus.” So maybe Kip was onto something. But Dr. Ride also talked about the importance of communication and how refreshing it was for her to take language and literature classes in college while feeling buried in labcoats, calculators and other scientific paraphernalia. “I was surprised at how relevant these classes were.”

In fact, without writers priming the imagination of the public, it’s unlikely that public would have supported the astronomical spending it took to leave earth. Science fiction frequently featured trips to the moon as early as the 19th century and Jules Verne calculated the velocity required to escape terrestrial gravity in 1870. How did Verne’s book, From the Earth to the Moon, suggest that we would accomplish the velocity to get to the moon? By being fired out of giant cannons. While these books captured the public’s imagination, they were not able to make space travel seem any more feasible.

Willy Ley helped change that. A German-born scientific writer who fled Nazi Germany, Ley was a powerful advocate for space exploration. He published several books that popularized the idea of space exploration, in part, by bridging the gap between science fiction and scientific fact. Sadly, Ley died less than a month before Apollo 11 landed on the surface of the moon, a surface that features a crater named in his honor.

Alex.

Space Suit of the Week

Both of the above photos were taken for Life Magazine in 1968 at ILC Industries in Dover, Delaware. One photo shows suit engineers diligently completing complex details on a pressure suit, and the other photo shows a lone lady hunched over a sewing machine cranking out a bevy of aluminum foil ponchos. I say this not only to point out the different experiences men and women had working in the space industry in the 60’s (Of course, it wasn’t just the space industry that treated folks more or less favorably based on their dirty bits) but also to point out two very different realities of the space industry in 1968.

On one hand this was rocket science, but on the other hand this was a really optimistic rocket experiment. While the whitecoats are debating the PSI strength of different weaves of kevlar, or when a lunar base would be ready for habitation, imagine the space seamstress looking up from behind her sewing machine (and patriotic collar) to remind the astronauts “be careful out there; bring back a moonrock!” And let’s hope she got one.

For all of the complexity that comprise space suits, it’s odd to see the same kind of sewing machine my grandmother used making pillow cases being used  to make components of extraterrestrial hiking gear.

Alex

Space Suit of the Week

This week, NASA launched a flickr account with less than two hundred of the larger body of photos that comprise NASA Images. According to NASA, the account will “reach an even wider audience and invite that audience to help tell the story of these photos by adding tags, or keywords, to the images to identify objects and people.”

The above photo is of John Glenn preparing for the Mercury Mission where he orbited the earth in the spacecraft Friendship 7. Glenn became the third person and first American to orbit the Earth in February of 1962 and went on to become a United States Senator for Ohio. The Space Suit Glenn wears in the above photos is a Mercury Space Suit and is large based on suits worn by Air Force pilots flying at high altitudes. The suit is not continually pressurized, but instead is a safeguard against a loss of pressure aboard the Friendship 7. The suit also protected Glenn from the immense heat experienced upon re-entry into the Earth’s atmosphere. You may notice that he appears to be carrying a suitcase with a tube coming out of it: that’s actually an air conditioner. Another tube runs to his helmet and provides a fresh supply of air.

I’m not sure why the window of the Friendship 7 craft appears to be held in place by red duct tape. However, here’s an article about the lady who painted “Friendship 7” on the side.

Alex

Space Suit of the Week

‘Sup nerds? Check your adult diapers, because this week we’re having a Space Suit underpants party. No, we won’t be moonwalkin’ in our skivvies, but we’ll take a look at how fancy long underwear keeps Spacefolk from suffering thermal extremes that would otherwise freeze and scorch them. Earlier, I commented that “the technical requirements of space suits are tremendous. In the vacuum of space, these suits recreate the protection that our entire biosphere offers, only these suits compress that protection” to about the thickness of a halloween costume. Maintaining a safe body temperature is one of the technical requirements any viable space suit must satisfy.

The average temperature in space is about three degrees above absolute zero, but when you get close to cosmic hairdryers, like our sun, it can get balmy.  How balmy? Well, take what the weather is like on earth’s moon: -240 degrees in the shade and 230 degrees in the sun. Half of your flesh is toasty while the other half is frigid. (This ignores what would happen to your body as a result of the lack of pressure. hint: water on your tongue and eyeballs boils).

A sight for sore eyes is the Liquid Cooling Garment, or LCG, which circulates water around small polyvinyl chloride tubes embedded in long, spandex underwear to conduct heat away from the astronaut’s body.  See them?  (Those aren’t pee tubes! In fact, astronauts wear superabsorbant diapers on space walks, although that hasn’t always been the case.) The water is re-cooled via a heat pump and re-circulated to keep the astronaut’s body temperature from rising as body heat accumulates inside the space suit.

That’s why you can’t really dress like an astronaut for halloween without a diaper.

I guess the hood is optional.

Alex

Space Suit of the Week

It’s hard to imagine anything more exciting than going to the moon. For the few folks lucky enough to land among the lunar rocks, what do they have to look forward to when they return from the zenith of their lives, other than to endure the lowly routines that occupy their time before dying. Some astronauts paint. Some who aren’t lucky enough to be astronauts just steal astronaut things. Empathizing with this downward momentum is this Week’s Space Suit of the Week: Back to Earth by Andrew Rae.

Andrew is an illustrator based in the UK and a member of the peepshow illustrator collective. There’s plenty of talent to click through, but be sure to see the complete version of Andrew’s comic here.

Big thanks to Greg for suggesting these delightful drawings.

Alex