In Japan, Space Expo 2014 has begun. It's a collaboration between the country's Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) and NASA, offering a chance for the public to see over 500 pieces of space exploration-themed realia. This includes shuttle replicas, for-real space food samples and a whole lot of rockets -- which is one of JAXA's specialties. In the middle of the exhibition, which lasts through September 2014, the Space Expo tells the story of the not-so-humble spacesuit.
NASA's suits predictably didn't start as the puffy, shiny, white ensembles that astronauts use today.
This oddly lacy number formed the starting base for spacesuit development: the US Air Force’s high-pressure bodysuit, developed in 1958. This series of full- and partial-pressure bodysuits was used by both the Air Force and the Navy, but they weren't quite enough for space. This is one of only 13 suits customized for that purpose, with extra layers of aluminized mylar added over the neoprene original.
Importantly, these early suits made movement severely limited. Due to the pressurized nature, flexing elbows and knees was impossible.
And the helmet needed some work.
Here's the eventual Project Mercury spacesuit. On May 5, 1961, Alan Shepard became the first American in space -- beaten by Russia's Yuri Gagarin a mere month earlier. It's scary how such early versions of the technology (both in the pilots' spacesuits and the rockets that sent them up) managed these feats.
The Mercury suit was worn unpressurized, but if the inside of the tiny crafts lost pressure, the suit was able to act as a backup.
Compared to the suits before it, the Project Mercury suits replaced an "open loop" breathing system with a "closed loop" system, which meant the system could drop the rubber diaphragm previously worn on the face. Dark gray nylon was replaced by an aluminum coating to improve temperature control.
Pilots were apparently given three suits: one for training, one for flight and just one more for backup. Each was tailored to the individual. The gloves had curved fingers, with the middle finger secured for switch flipping and button pressing.
NASA's Gemini program required a next-generation suit. This version added a net mesh to maintain its shape, removable combat boots and a fully pressurized helmet with built-in headphones and mics.
The Gemini spacesuit was worn by Ed White during the first American walk in space.
Now things are starting to look familiar. This is the Apollo spacesuit.
Efforts to land on the moon (and research, you know, the moon) meant spacesuits had to offer protection against extreme temperatures and an unforgiving terrain, while also providing enough flexibility to move.
Proofing the suit for the moon took more work. Tasks included: defending against tiny asteroids, protecting against the rough temperatures of the lunar surface and a seven-hour-long life-support system.
Behind that white surface, there's a whole lot going on.
The aforementioned mesh keeps everything in place, while flexible parts around the elbow and knee ensure movement's possible.
This inner-wear houses a water-cooling system that flows around the trainee's body.
And if you missed it, the future of NASA's spacesuits might look something like this. Can't wait.