After Elon Musk hinted that SpaceX spacesuit details and photos would be revealed sometime this week, he followed through on his promise and has posted the first official photo of the suit that NASA crew and private astronauts will wear while aboard the manned Dragon 2 spacecraft.
While not technically a true “spacesuit”, SpaceX’s creation is intended to protect crew aboard its Dragon 2 spacecraft in the unlikely event of depressurization while in orbit or following an abort after launch. These flight suits would be of no use on spacewalks, as they make movement extremely difficult while fully pressurized. However, SpaceX’s ultimate goal is to colonize Mars and possibly land humans on the Moon on the way there. To accomplish those aspirations, SpaceX will need a true EVA (spacewalk)-capable spacesuit before they begin to launch astronauts out of Earth orbit. Their flightsuit development will undoubtedly provide their engineers a great deal of experience along the way.
Within the circle of SpaceX fans, flightsuit development has attached itself to a considerable amount of hype over the years, with many hints and teasers that indicated it would be extremely slick and aesthetically pleasing.
During my IAC 2016 attendance, the same conference where Musk revealed SpaceX’s Mars architecture, Garett Reisman gave a talk on commercial crew, during which he indicated that the designers of the suit would have the honor of being the first individuals to test the suit in a true vacuum. The audience laughed nervously. In comments posted beneath the original Instagram post, Musk revealed that the flight suit had been tested to double the internal pressure it would normally be at while in vacuum, and said that the individual seen behind the visor was one of the suit’s SpaceX engineers. It is unclear yet if the suit has been tested with humans in a vacuum environment, but this reveal will undoubtedly precede future details, photos, and videos of the suit and its development.
In a Reddit AMA just over a year ago, Musk commented that “[the suit] needs to both look like a 21st century spacesuit and work well”. In order to achieve that difficult goal, SpaceX ultimately hired a famed costume designer from the film industry, Jose Fernandez of Ironhead Studios. Ironhead Studios has been involved in an array of extremely successful Marvel movies as a costume designer and concept artist.
With the finalized, vacuum-ready design now revealed, it is clear that SpaceX has managed to strike a balance between functionality and aesthetics, and the company has produced a suit that looks truly futuristic. While time will tell if astronauts are as happy as with the functionality as they are with the looks, it is likely that SpaceX is thoroughly testing the suits to ensure that they serve their NASA astronauts and private customers as effectively as possible.