Space Suit of the Week

It’s the future from the past; it’s the Grumman Moon Suit! You might recognize it from the April 27 1962 issue of Life Magazine, or from Matel’s Major Matt Mason, a moon-exploring plastic toy from 1963. The suit was invented by Allyn Hazard, an engineer at JPL in Pasadena, the suit’s distinctive shape accommodates the ability of the astronaut to retract his arms from the sleeves of the suit into a spacious interior. But why? “To perform vital tasks, like scratching one’s nose.” But that’s not all he can do, because other on-board amenities include food, air conditioning and an inexplicable a much needed crotch window, which you can see in the black and white photo above. The model astronaut above is the suit’s inventor, who is doing a great job of hiding the agony he surely must be in as he nervously clambers around the scorching mojave desert in a 200 pound, iron-clad turtle shell terrified that he will fall over and not be able to get up. And the boots are so stylish.

Scientists rarely seem naive, and when they do it’s actually a relief. These are folks who spend their careers searching for explicit understanding, exact analysis and extremely long equations. But designing a space suit in 1960 required less calculator and more imagination. Imagine packing for a 20 billion dollar vacation 240,000 miles away. It’s science fiction, and the personality of the Grumman Moon suit is not just result of accommodating function, but also of exceeding optimism. Let’s call it Lunafest Destiny: “we ARE going to the moon.” (But instead of forcing Native Americans down the Trail of Tears, we are going to kill domesticated animals, forcing them down a meteor’s tail.) Every good story needs an antagonist, and the same science fiction story that invented this space suit, perpetuated a ruthless ambition with regards to animal testing- the cold scientist with a heartless calculator.

But what I love about the Grumman Moon Suit are the design’s traces of the scientists’ hand and hubris. Someone went to great lengths so that space travelers could walk on the moon AND simultaneously pick their noses… all in the name of science. While this moon suit never made it off the ground, I hope that one day the efforts of these scientists will pay off with a big, juicy moon booger. Until the earth rises over the horizon of the moon that day, we’re stuck on the earth’s crust looking out toward other moons with no plans, no crotch windows and no space suits to take us to the future.

April 16, 2010