See the incredible 57-year evolution of US spacesuits

 

Space may be the final frontier, but it's also inaccessible — and deadly — to human beings without a good spacesuit.

For 57 years, NASA and US companies have met the call to protect high-flying astronauts who risk their lives in the name of exploration.

From the silvery suits of the 1950s and 1960s Mercury program to next-generation commercial and government designs, here's how astronauts' spacesuits have evolved over six decades.

Dragan Radovanovic and Ali Sundermier contributed to this post.

Mercury Suit (1961-1963)

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Project Mercury marked the first time US citizens ventured into orbit around Earth.

To protect the first astronauts from sudden pressure loss, NASA modified high-altitude jet-aircraft pressure suits from the US Navy. Each space suit had a layer of neoprene-coated nylon on the inside and aluminized nylon on the outside (to keep the suit's inner temperature as stable as possible).

Six astronauts flew into space wearing the suit before NASA retired it from service.

 

 

 

Gemini Suit (1965-1966)

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Gemini was NASA's second space program — and one with more ambitious goals. The Gemini capsule carried a two-astronaut crew into space, and had one (uncomfortable) mission that lasted two weeks.

The David Clark Company designed Gemini suits to be flexible when pressurized, and took extra steps to make them more comfortable than Mercury suits. For example, they could be connected to a portable air conditioner to keep the astronauts cool until they could hook up to the spacecraft's lines. These suits weighed 16-34 lbs.

 

 

 

Gemini Spacewalk Suit (1965-1966)

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One type of Gemini suit, called G4C, was designed with NASA's first spacewalks in mind. Astronauts would open the hatch during these ventures and leave the safety of their vehicle to work in the vacuum of space.

To withstand the harsh space environment, the suit connected the astronauts to the spacecraft via a hose, which supplied them with oxygen. In case there was a problem, though, some variants of the suit provided up to 30 minutes of backup life support. The heaviest variant weighed about 34 lbs.

 

 

 

Apollo Spacewalk Suit (1967-1975)

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The Apollo program brought astronauts to the moon, and it was no walk in the park. The astronauts needed more than either the Gemini or Mercury suits could offer.

The first people to walk the moon required a shield against fine regolith (dust as sharp as glass); protection from wild temperature swings from sun to shade; the flexibility to install gear and pick up moon rocks; and the ability to last for hours away from a spacecraft.

The suit came with a dozen layers of fabric, thick boots, and a robust life-support system. Each weighed more than 180 lbs on Earth, but just one-sixth as much in the moon's weaker gravity field.

 

 

 

First Space Shuttle Flight Suit (1981)

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A mission called STS-1 — short for Space Transportation System-1 — was the first orbital spaceflight of NASA's space shuttle program.

Columbia, the first 100-ton orbiter, carried a two-astronaut crew into space and orbited Earth 37 times before reentering the atmosphere and gliding back to a runway. Astronauts weren't venturing outside, so they only wore an emergency ejection escape suit, which (like the Mercury suit) was a modified version of a US Air Force high-altitude pressure suit.

 

 

 

Extravehicular Mobility Unit (1983-present)

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Astronauts of the space-shuttle era would work regularly in space to maintain satellites as well as construct and maintain the International Space Station (ISS).

They needed a workhorse spacewalk suit for such tasks, so the space agency created the Extravehicular Mobility Unit. This 14-layer pressurized suit could withstand the harsh void of space and keep astronauts alive for more than eight hours. Fully loaded with gear and supplies, it could weigh nearly 320 lbs on Earth.

NASA also tested a jetpack-like device for the EMU, called a Manned Maneuvering Unit, that allowed astronauts to fly around free and untethered. People on board the ISS today use an advanced version of EMUs to maintain the space station. 

 

 

 

Space Shuttle Flight Suit (1988-2011)

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The suit that astronauts wore during the Space Shuttle program is sometimes called a "pumpkin suit" for its bright orange color. The suit is equipped with gloves on disconnecting lock rings on the wrist, liquid cooling and improved ventilation, and extra layers of insulation.

 

 

 

Sokol Launch and Entry Suit (present)

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The sharp, blue-lined spacesuit you see many astronauts wearing today is actually a Russian suit called the Sokol or "Falcon" spacesuit.

The 22-lb suit is pretty similar to the space shuttle flight suit, though it's used to protect people who fly inside Russia's Soyuz spacecraft (which NASA pays an increasingly hefty sum to use for its own astronauts' travel to and from the space station).

 

 

 

SpaceX Crew Dragon Flight Suit (Est. 2018)

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NASA currently pays more than $80 million per round-trip to and from the International Space Station. But it's hoping to lower costs by investing in US commercial companies to provide a "space taxi" service.

One of those companies is Elon Musk's SpaceX, which designed a slick new spacesuit to protect astronauts who will fly aboard its Crew Dragon spacecraft to the ISS (and perhaps around the moon).

"It took us three years ... to make a spacesuit that looks good and works," Musk said in February 2018. Musk already flew a dummy toward Mars in one of the suits, but hopes to fly the first people inside them before the end of 2018.

 

 

 

Boeing CST-100 Starliner Flight Suit (Est. 2018)

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Boeing is the second company NASA is paying for space taxi services. Its 12-lb, bright blue suit is designed for the CST-100 Starliner spacecraft and is full of features to make it comfortable and mobile under pressure. That includes a helmet attached with a thick, air-tight zipper (no heavy or bulky neck ring required).

Boeing hopes to fly its first astronauts in October 2018 and certify its whole system for regular use by January 2019.

 

 

 

Z-2 Planetary Surface Spacesuit (2030s)

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As NASA continues to push the boundaries of human space exploration — it hopes to reach Mars in the 2030s — it needs to develop even more advanced suits to be worn both inside and outside of spacecraft. 

The Z-2 suit is the space agency's lightweight, high-durability design for working on the moon or Mars. In it, astronauts could explore, collect samples, and maneuver in and out of habitats and rovers, and fairly easily take it on and off.

"Adjustable shoulder and waist sizing features maximize the range of crewmember sizes who can fit into any single suit," NASA said.

 

 

 

Spider Flyer-Walker Spacesuit (Date unknown)

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Planets aren't the only place astronauts may venture: One plan championed by Lockheed Martin has people landing on Phobos, a small Martian moon. Its gravitational pull is less than a fraction of a percent of Earth's, though, so "landing" is relative.

To grab onto Phobos — which may harbor a lot of ice that could be turned into rocket fuel — Lockheed Martin has proposed the spider flyer-walker: an eight-legged, rocket-powered spacesuit that can crawl, walk, or hop across the surface. NASA has yet to incorporate the suit into its plans, but it's a good representation of how spacesuits may continue to evolve to meet the intense needs of space exploration in the future. 

 

33 PHOTOS
2018 Space Calendar
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2018 Space Calendar

January 1, 2: Supermoon/Full Wolf Moon

The moon will make its closest approach to the Earth on New Year's Day and will appear larger and brighter than usual, earning it the distinction of 'Supermoon.'

Additionally, the first full moon of any year earns itself the distinction 'Full Wolf Moon.' The term was created by Native Americans as a nod to the howling wolves they would often hear outside their villages in January.

Photo: Matt Cardy/Getty Images

January 3, 4: Quadrantids Meteor shower 

The Quadrantid meteor shower, known to produce from 50-100 meteors during its peak, is 2018’s first major meteor shower.

Sadly, the light from the nearly full moon will block out most of the show.

Photo: NurPhoto/NurPhoto via Getty Images

January 31: Total Lunar Eclipse/Blue Moon

A Blue Moon is the term for the second full moon in a month with more than one full moon.

January's Blue Moon also happens to coincide with a total lunar eclipse.

Photo: REUTERS/Mike Hutchings

February 15: Partial Solar Eclipse

This type of solar eclipse occurs when the moon casts a shadow that only covers part of the Sun.

The partial solar eclipse on Feb. 15 will only be visible in parts of South America and Antarctica. Those who wish to take it in will need to wear special protective eyewear. 

Photo: REUTERS/Tatyana Makeyeva TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY

March 2: Full Worm Moon

Another term coined by Native Americans, a 'Full Worm Moon' is the distinction given to the first full moon in March.

As the temperature gets warmer, the ground begins to soften and earthworms begin to rear their heads through the soil again.

Photo: NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images

March 15: Mercury Reaches Greatest Eastern Elongation

Mercury will reach its greatest eastern elongation from the sun (i.e. its highest point above the horizon) on March 15.

This will make the planet more visible than usual.

Photo: The Royal Observatory Greenwich, London

April 22, 23: Lyrid Meteor Shower

The Lyrid meteor shower, which usually produces around 20 meteors per hour, will reach its peak between the night of April 22 and the morning of the 23rd.

Photo: Ye Aung Thu/AFP/Getty Images

April 30: Full Pink Moon

'Full Pink Moon' is another term believed to have been coined by Native American tribes.

In April, the weather finally starts to get warmer and flowers begin to appear, earning the month's full moon its pretty name. 

Photo: Ben Birchall/PA Images via Getty Images

May 6, 7: Eta Aquarid Meteor Shower

The Eta Aquarids meteor shower, made up of dust particles left behind by Halley's Comet, can produce up to 60 meteors per hour at its peak.

Although most of its activity can be observed in the Southern Hemisphere, northerners can still take in the show if weather conditions permit.  

Photo: NASA

May 9: Jupiter Reaches Opposition

The gas giant will make its closest approach to Earth on May 9, making it appear brighter than any other time of the year.

Photo: Universal History Archive via Getty Images

May 29: Full Flower Moon

The May full moon was given this name by Native American tribes as the beginning of the month is typically when flowers are in full bloom.

Photo: REUTERS/Navesh Chitrakar TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY

June 27: Saturn Reaches Opposition

Saturn will make its closest approach to Earth on June 27, making it appear brighter than any other time of the year.

Photo: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute/Handout via REUTERS

Jun 28: Full Strawberry Moon

As the last full moon of spring, stargazers can expect this one to be big and bright -- but contrary to its name, it is not red.

Strawberry picking season reaches its peak in June, earning the month's first full moon its delicious name. 

Photo: Matt Cardy/Getty Images

July 13: Partial Solar Eclipse

This type of solar eclipse occurs when the Moon casts a shadow that only covers part of the Sun.

The partial solar eclipse on July 13 will only be visible in parts of southern Australia and Antarctica. Those who wish to take it in will need to wear special protective eyewear.

Photo: REUTERS/Mal Langsdon TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY

July 27: Mars Reaches Opposition

You guessed it -- Mars will make its closest approach to Earth on July 27, making it appear brighter, and thus more visible, than any other time of the year.

Photo: NASA/Handout via Reuters 

July 27: Full Buck Moon

The July full moon was dubbed the 'Full Buck Moon' by Native American tribes, as it appears during this time of year when male deer begin to grow their new antlers.

Photo: REUTERS/Carlo Allegri 

July 28, 29: Total Lunar Eclipse

A total lunar eclipse occurs when the moon passes completely through the Earth's shadow, lending the moon a dark-redish appearance.

July's lunar eclipse will be visible in North America, eastern Asia and Australia.

Photo: REUTERS/Kacper Pempel

August 11: Partial Solar Eclipse

This type of solar eclipse occurs when the moon casts a shadow that only covers part of the Sun.

The partial solar eclipse on Aug. 11 will only be visible in parts of Canada, Greenland, northern Europe, and northern and eastern Asia. Those who wish to take it in will need to wear special protective eyewear.

Photo: REUTERS/Samrang Pring TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY

August 12, 13: Perseid Meteor Shower

The Perseids meteor shower, made up of dust particles left behind by the Swift-Tuttle Comet, can produce up to 60 meteors per hour at its peak.

The thin crescent moon on the night of Aug. 12 will create favorable viewing conditions for the celestial spectacle, which should be visible all over the world.  

Photo: REUTERS/Paul Hanna

August 17: Venus Reaches Greatest Eastern Elongation

Venus will make its closest approach to Earth on Aug. 17, making it appear brighter, and thus more visible, than any other time of the year.

Photo: Photo12/UIG via Getty Images

August 26: Full Sturgeon Moon

The August full moon earned this distinction from Native American tribes, as sturgeon were most readily caught during this month.

Photo: Pradita Utana/NurPhoto via Getty Images

September 7: Neptune Reaches Opposition

Neptune will make its closest approach to Earth on Sept. 7, making it appear brighter, and thus more visible, than any other time of the year.

However, due to its distance from Earth, the blue planet will only appear as a small dot to even those using telescopes. 

Photo: Time Life Pictures/NASA/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)

September 24, 25: Full Harvest Moon

The name 'Harvest Moon' goes to the full moon that occurs closest to the autumn equinox every year.

Photo: Santiago Vidal/LatinContent/Getty Images

October 8: Draconid Meteor Shower

The Draconid meteor shower, which is made up of dust particles left behind by comet 21P Giacobini-Zinner, only produces about 10 meteors per hour at its peak.

However, the new moon on the night of Oct. 9 will create extremely favorable viewing conditions for the shower, which should be visible all over the world.  

Photo: NASA 

October 21, 22: Orionid Meteor Shower

Another shower produced by Halley's comet, the Orionids will likely be at least partially blocked by the light of the nearly full moon on Oct. 21.

Photo: Yuri Smityuk\TASS via Getty Images

October 23: Uranus Reaches Opposition

Uranus will make its closest approach to Earth on Oct. 23, making it appear brighter, and thus more visible, than any other time of the year.

Unfortunately, it is so far away from the Earth that it will not be visible without a powerful telescope. 

Photo: Time Life Pictures/Jet Propulsion Laboratory/NASA/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images

October 24: Full Hunter's Moon

October's full moon was dubbed the 'Full Hunter's Moon' by Naive American tribes since animals are more easily spotted during this time of year after plants lose their leaves/

Photo: PA Wire/PA Images

November 5, 6: Taurids Meteor Shower

The Taurids is a small meteor shower that only produces between 5-10 meteors per hour at its peak.

Photo: NASA 

November 17, 18: Leonid Meteor Shower

The Leonid meteor shower, which radiates from the constellation Leo, produces about 15 meteors per hour at its peak. 

Photo: Ali Jarekji / Reuters

November 23: Full Beaver Moon

November's full moon was given its name by Native America tribes, who would set up beaver traps during the month in hopes of catching the creatures for their warm fur.

Photo: Matt Cardy/Getty Images

December 13, 14: Geminids Meteor Shower

The Geminids meteor shower, produced by debris left behind by an asteroid known as 3200 Phaethon, is renowned as one of the most spectacular of its kind. 

The show can produce up to 120 meteors per hour at its peak and will be visible all over the planet on the night of Dec. 13. 

Photo: REUTERS/Navesh Chitrakar

December 21, 22: Ursids Meteor Shower

The Draconid meteor shower, which is made up of dust particles left behind by the Tuttle Comet, only produces about 10 meteors per hour at its peak.

Sadly, the full moon on Dec. 22 will likely create unfavorable viewing conditions for the smaller show.

Photo: REUTERS/Daniel Aguilar DA/LA

December 22: Full Cold Moon

Unsurprisingly, December's full moon was named by Native American tribes after the cold, winter weather.

Photo: Matt Cardy/Getty Images
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