Featured Image Source: SpaceX
SpaceX is ready to return NASA Astronauts Douglas Hurley and Robert Behnken from the International Space Station (ISS). The Crew Dragon spacecraft will undock from the space station to embark on a voyage to Earth tomorrow, August 1st. The brave duo are the first ones to ever ride the spacecraft and wear SpaceX space suits in space. The mission, referred to as Demo-2, is a demonstration flight meant to assess Dragon and the suit's performance for future operational missions.
SpaceX’s space suit works alongside the Crew Dragon spacecraft – “We think of it as kind of a suit seat system, so the crew and the suit are in a lot of ways working together,” Chris Trigg, Space Suits and Crew Equipment Manager said. “When the crew gets in the capsule they get in their seats and they plug the suit into the umbilical that is attached to the seat. The umbilical is providing everything that the suit needs. So, it provides the avionics or electronics for communications, it is providing the air to cool the suit and it also provides gas when needed to depressurize the suit. So, it's really a single point that lets the suit do all the things that it needs to do,” Trigg explains.
SpaceX made the form-fitting pressure suits, with comfort in mind. The sleek black and white suit is maneuverable unlike NASA's Space Shuttle’s bulky orange suits. Each SpaceX suit is hand-made, tailored and customized for the astronaut wearing it. “Our space suits is completely designed in-house…in Hawthorne, California, in the same building as the rockets and the capsule,” Lead Space Suit Specialist Maria Sundeen said, “The space suit is custom-made for each crew member and that is to optimize the fit for the crew member.” The suits are very stylish with the logos of both NASA and SpaceX, denoting the partnership. Although the suit cannot be used for spacewalks, the suit is meant to provide a pressurized environment upon lift off and return, atmospheric reentry aboard the Dragon capsule, in case of an emergency such as cabin depressurization. “We definitely wanted to innovate, we wanted it to look inspiring but first and foremost we wanted it to be safe and reliable,” Trigg added.
“The space suits primary purpose is to protect the crew in the unlikely event that the cabin were to depressurize.”
A suit that offers proper pressure 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 would cause gases inside a person's organs which expands tissues and makes blood bubble causing a person to pass out in 15 seconds. The space suit regulates air pressure, provides oxygen, stabilizes temperature, and deflects cosmic radiation, all while allowing for movement.
SpaceX's 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 the rocket launch ascent and spacecraft reentry. It also has two internal layers, a flame-resistant outer layer and an inner cooling system. The space helmet is 3D printed with solar radiation protection. Trigg shared:
“We designed the helmet in-house; the helmet serves a number of different functions, obviously it's protecting the crews head and it is also housing the microphones as well as the valves that are regulating pressure in the suit.”
The gloves are flexible and specifically designed to be compatible with touchscreen devices. Crew Dragon's control and pilot system consists of a trio of touchscreen displays. The boots feature heel sliders which help to secure feet to footrests. NASA Astronauts Hurley and Behnken tested Dragon and the suit's functions in space. Agency officials say the demonstration mission has offered positive results.
“I think one of the things that is cool about the suit is that it is not just a piece of hardware, it is a very personal thing to work on for everyone on the team who has been building these, so, it’s a really amazing thing,” Trigg wholeheartedly said in the video below.