Picture © Carl Atteniese 1983 and 2018


Space Suits: Think White And Get Serious (Final Version, including new ideas)

NASA (the National Aeronautics and Space Administration) is developing new spacesuits for deep space missions to asteroids, the Mars system, and perhaps for missions to the Moon. Some of the new suits being proposed by would-be contractors for NASA have graphic designs on them. I am not an engineer, but in my imaginative estimation, spacesuits should be white–virtually all over, or at least a non-absorbing color–preferably reflective.

Graphic designs as minor elements may be acceptable, even preferable in view of some psychological and aesthetic estimation–but they should not be a distraction or impediment to this very serious and utilitarian element of manned spaceflight.

Some of the suits being proposed are dark and look more like something completely self-indulgent and silly–like concoctions devised for hipsters from a sci-fi B movie.

I don’t like the idea of dark colors on a spacesuit, because space travel carries with it unexpected risks and endless opportunities for unknown circumstances wherein seeing the astronaut in reduced lighting conditions is important–or could be.

Astronauts on EVA (Extra Vehicular Activity–meaning when they are performing tasks outside the ship, station, rover, or habitat), and even in-craft, will encounter situations where maximum visibility and camera detection will be enhanced by reflective colors–or the lack of color all together–on the pressure suit.

It makes no sense to me to put grey, dark, or absorbing colors on the exterior of a spacesuit–which, in shadow will create pixilation issues in video and other imaging media–not to mention possibly causing first-hand visibility-issues in situations involving astronauts separated by great distances or structures and land features–as well as in shadow.

We have to apply imagination to its limits in planning long-duration and deep-space missions to asteroids, to Phobos and Demos (the moons of Mars), and to Mars–in all areas of cognition; transport, stowage, unintended exterior rescue & repair (perhaps at inopportune locations on the mission trajectory)… in suit-replacement situations (say a ‘surface-suit’ must be donned in a Zero-Gravity EVA scenario–instead of a deep space EVA suit that has been damaged); in unexpected psychological situations, and in scenarios of injury and location-loss on the surface of a planet, moon, or asteroid.

On another note, rear-entry suits are being made, such as the Russians have. The back of the suit has a door, which must be closed and sealed by another crew-member. I feel we have to move toward a suit that can be donned alone; I realize that with present and past spacesuits, astronauts have worked together in some aspect of donning the upper hard-shell torso and lower sections, the helmets, and the gloves–but certainly in rear-entry suits, more than one person is necessary in a more comprehensive way–and this I feel will be a great disadvantage on long-duration and deep-space missions—where many unpredictable situations may arise. Should other astronauts be absent, incapacitated, or in the most undesirable scenario–deceased, what will a lone survivor—or perhaps the only healthy astronaut do to don his spacesuit? I feel there may be situations in transit to Mars or the asteroids, or on the surface–wherein a lone astronaut may need to don a suit by him or herself, and with no one around to help, what is he or she to do? Think of The Martian. The suit used in the movie was a fantasy.

Another concern regards the space helmets; I think new suits should include movable helmets, such as was used in the Mercury and Gemini programs. I understand that the cushions in those helmets–which afforded helmet swivel, because they gently pressed up against the head of the astronaut–were likely confining and uncomfortable after a while, but that problem might be circumvented with a motorized rotation or serviceable and adjustable head-clamp-cushion system that could open and close on the temporal portions of the astronauts head–with servo motors or retractable claps.

The reason I think lateral head movement of the helmet is crucial is many-fold; first, it will increase the range of motion usually natural to humans and thus decrease a feeling of confinement, claustrophobia, and frustration. Next, in terms of efficiency, a fixed helmet in which an astronaut must turn his head–like in looking out a window–and then his or her body, to go beyond a 360 degree angle–takes longer, requires more energy, and alters the astronaut’s orientation to turn him or herself around–simply to look in another direction. On EVA outside a ship, this causes torque and fatique (which could happen with a movable helmet, too, if the locking collars are not friction-free).

Finally, regarding the helmets of the Z2 and other suits you can see via the links below, am I to assume no shroud, shield, or visor will accompany them to protect against micro-meteoroids, blast-ejecta, flying regolith, falling rocks, dust-storms, and extreme sunlight? Surely this is just oversight in the online presentations of the spacesuits and not an oversight in design? I am aware that in the case of Mars there is a thin atmosphere to filter out micrometeorites—but surely we are not relying on that. Remember: Imagination, imagination, imagination.

Returning to the graphic design issue of the over-all suit exterior, I understand NASA is almost totally beholden to selling space exploration to a public that is key to its funding and all too ignorant of the necessity of increased support for space travel, but fashion isn’t the way to go in this area.

Fashion in spacesuits reduces the glamour and seriousness of manned space travel–if not the safety–by possibly passing it into the realm of the frivolous–however slightly. And frivolity does not increase funding in a serious and dangerous endeavor like spaceflight, especially in America. NASA has terrible budgetary problems as it is, and this writer (as well as others) thinks this issue–in no uncertain terms–contributed to the forteen deaths we winessed during the Space Shuttle Transportation System.

Keep space suits white, or silver–not just for visibility, but to keep them cool (temperature-widse AND style-wise)–to highlight the presence of foreign matter, and to help show damage incurred on them.

Regarding the darker spacesuits proposed, luminescent wiring or graphic designs are suggested for their bodices and appendages–but I don’t think these will be enough to identify an astronaut at a distance, in all circumstances—especially where multiple light sources and extreme blinding brightness may be factors, as are experienced in Low Earth Orbit, in deep space, and on celestial bodies lacking the filtering-effect of an atmosphere.

Space travel is light years ahead of everything else in the excitement and danger departments. No bells & whistles are necessary for window-dressing to make it more appealing–and could bring harm.

Deep-space travel at this juncture in human history is necessary, for Near Earth Object deflection and asteroid mining, for Moon and Mars bases to establish energy depots, mining (again), way-stations for distant interplanetary exploration, and for terraforming and multi-planet species colonization in the face of looming climate disasters; finally–for the sheer growth of the human spirit, general science, and the economy. These are all essential and beautiful, but deadly serious businesses. Let’s apply fashion in space travel when we have shopping malls on the Moon and Mars—not before.



NASA Reveals New Spacesuits:

Thousands Vote on The Next Spacesuit Designs. You can too:…/thousands-vote-nasas-next-spacesui…

Vote on The New Spacesuits:

Non-inflatable Spacesuits:

The ‘Slide-in’ Spacesuit:…/nasas-next-gen-z1-space-suit-not-…

Adam Savage’s Mercury Spacesuit Replica:

How Astronauts Put on Spacesuits:

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