November 14, 2019 • Evelyn J. Arevalo
SpaceX aims to send NASA astronauts on board Crew Dragon to the International Space Station (ISS). NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine, speaking to journalists and Elon Musk at the SpaceX headquarters in Hawthorne, California, announced that a Commercial Crew test flight will take place in the spring of 2020.
“Elon and I are in strong agreement on this, that the one thing we have in development that is of the highest priority is launching American astronauts on American rockets from American soil.”
Bridenstine said, Musk nodded in agreement.
NASA Astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley were wearing their new suits at the SpaceX facility, as part of a training session for the future Demo-2 mission, which will be the first crewed SpaceX flight to the International Space Station.
The Crew Dragon spacecraft will launch into orbit on a Falcon 9 rocket from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Musk said:
“The launch of the crew is something that we’ve been working towards for 17 years. This is the reason SpaceX was created, we’re incredibly honored to partner with NASA and to make this happen.”
For future missions, SpaceX designed form fitting pressure suits which makes them more comfortable and maneuverable unlike NASA's Space Shuttle’s bulky orange suits.
Each SpaceX suit is tailored and customized for the astronaut wearing it. The spacesuits are very stylish and feature a black-and-white aesthetic with the logos of both NASA and SpaceX, demonstrating the collaboration between the two agencies. Astronauts have worked closely with the company over the past years by providing critical feedbacks on the ship designs and, of course, the spacesuits. They have started testing and training in these spacesuits.
The suit is meant to provide a pressurized environment for all crew members aboard the Dragon capsule, in case of an emergency situation such as cabin depressurization.
SpaceX's "slip on," one-piece suit features a single connection point between the suit and vehicle, a communications system to communicate with each other and the craft, as well as hearing protection which will protect astronaut's ears during rocket launch ascent and spacecraft reentry. It also has a flame resistant outer layer and a inner cooling system. The space helmet is 3D printed with solar radiation protection. The gloves are flexible and compatible with touchscreen devices. The boots feature heel sliders which help to secure feet to footrests.
These slim suits won't be used for space walks, but they will protect astronauts from any potential loss of cabin pressure during flight, which is essential so that bodily functions are not harmed by a drop in pressure. A rapid loss of air and pressure or exposure to the vacuum of space will cause gases inside a person's organs which expands tissues and makes bubbling blood, even boiling eye balls. If this happens, it will make a person pass out in about 15 seconds. Which isn't enough time to rescue someone nor become aware of this dangerous situation in order to fix it. That's why spacesuits have to be worn inside the craft to ensure astronauts have a stable 'sealed-off' life support system. So a spacesuit will regulate air pressure, provide oxygen, and stabilize temperature as well as deflect cosmic radiation, all while allowing for movement.
NASA Astronaut Bob Behnken
NASA Astronaut Doug Hurley
The astronauts performed this suit-up along SpaceX suit designers and engineers using the same ground support equipment, they helped the astronauts put on their one-piece space suit, helped them buckle into their seats, then went through the leak check procedure. They also performed a simulated launch countdown with the astronauts inside a Crew Dragon simulator and practiced several emergency exit scenarios wearing the suits. NASA said astronauts will continue to practice ahead of Crew Dragon Demo-2 mission.
Sometime next year, we will see astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley walk down a hallway flaunting SpaceX's suits on their way to board Crew Dragon and a Falcon 9 rocket will launch them from American soil.