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July 15, 2019 - Space exploration requires human beings to dress for space. A spacesuit is really a personal spacecraft, enabling astronauts to take their environment with them and protect them from the void of space. Here’s a quick look at how far we’ve come from the earliest spacesuits.
The design of the spacesuit evolved from military pressurised flight suits to cope with low atmospheric pressure and lack of oxygen during stratospheric flights during the 1950s.
The first protective suit used in space was the Zvezda-made SK-1, worn by Yuri Gagarin when he became the first human to journey into space on April 12, 1961.
America’s first crewed mission to space in 1963 -- NASA’s Mercury Project -- used a suit developed from the U.S. Navy Mark IV pilots’ pressure suit, modified by the B.F. Goodrich Company in the late 1950s. The Mercury suit was coated with aluminium for thermal control, and a closed loop breathing system pumped oxygen into the suit through a tube at the waist.
The first suits designed from the beginning for use in space were the American A7-L, from Collins Aerospace, and Soviet Krechet (Golden Falcon), made by the Zvezda bureau. The Soviet crewed lunar programme was cancelled without a crewed flight after catastrophic failures of its NI launcher -- the counterpart to the U.S. Saturn V.
The Apollo AL-7s, worn by Neil Armstrong and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin to walk on the Moon, had to resist jagged rocks, extreme temperatures, provide both the ability to bend down to the surface and life support to accommodate multi-hour expeditions.
Following the 1975 Apollo–Soyuz mission which involved the docking of an Apollo Command/Service Module and a Soviet Soyuz capsule, spacesuits became interchangeable. NASA developed the A7-LB while Zveda bureau’s Sokol suit is still worn by Americans flying Soyuz spacecraft to the International Space Station (ISS).
The search for the perfect suit continues. Both next-generation Boeing CST-100 Starliner and SpaceX Crew Dragon spacesuits are in contention for NASA’s Commercial Crew programme, with a preliminary date for the first crew launch to the ISS in September.