costly space suits
Welcome back to explore more on space related facts after celebrating
the new year! Just go down memory lane and think of the fancy dress
parades you took part in.
SK-1, the space suit of Yuri Gagarin
Apart from the most common costumes such as that of the clown, the
frog and Spider Man, have you ever dressed up as an astronaut, in a
In today's edition we will enlighten you about actual space suits
which are far more complex than the suits that you make with bits of
cloth and cardboard for fancy dress parades.
As you know, the relevant temperature, proper pressure, oxygen and
many other aspects are needed for a human being to survive in outer
As space is a place which does not have suitable conditions at all, a
complex collection of garments with many equipment which enable an
astronaut to survive in the harsh regions of outer space, has been
introduced. Known as the space suits, a standard NASA suit costs about
What is expected from a space suit?
* A stable pressure, generally less than the atmospheric pressure has
to be inside the suit. Although very low pressures enables easy
movements, it would result in breathing problems.
Orlan suit used for extra vehicular activity
* Obviously, there should be breathable oxygen and a proper
temperature regulation. Since heat can be lost only due to thermal
radiation and conduction (transmission of heat) liquid cooling is done
within the suit, and insulations are used on the hands and feet to avoid
conduction during physical contact.
* Protection from electromagnetic radiation, since in outer space you
are directly exposed to electromagnetic radiation of the Sun. This is
evident specially during Extra Vehicular Activity (work done by an
astronaut outside of his or her spacecraft).
* A communication system, which is generally a radio system.
* Protection from micrometeoroids.
* Methods to recharge and discharge gases and liquids.
* Ability for the astronaut to move with ease with all these
Space suit designs
We have seen the key requirements of a space suit. But, making such a
design a reality involves a lot of effort and precision. Let's see what
these considerations are all about.
We focused on maintaining a constant pressure as a primary concern
previously. But, it is easier said than done.
When retaining constant pressure in the suit, having a constant
volume is the general method. But, there is a possibility for the volume
to change, when the astronaut moves, and apart from that, since the
pressure in space is zero, the suit tends to inflate like a balloon. In
such a situation, the astronaut may have to do extra work to bend his
joints, which can be very tiring. Therefore, space suit designers try to
eliminate this as much as possible.
There are three approaches to design space suits which address the
Sokol suits used by Soyuz crew members
1. Hard-Shell Suits
Just think of the armour of ancient kings and knights that you have
seen in story books, films and cartoons. Hard-shell suits are very
similar to these and are made of metal or composite material in order to
maintain a constant volume within the suit. But, these suits are
difficult to move.
2. Mixed Suits
These suits have certain parts as a hard-shell suit and other parts
which are made using fabric. This is easier to handle compared to the
hard-shell type, although both these types have a risk of
depressurisation if the suit is punctured.
3. Skintight Suits
This type is quite similar to a swimsuit. These are also known as
mechanical counter pressure suits, because it is the elasticity of the
suit that provides pressure to the body. The head is covered with a
pressurised helmet. Although this does not have the risk of
depressurisation, it is very hard to put on and take off.
Apart from that, since most space suit designs restrict the
astronaut's head movements as they are fixed
Shenzhou space suit
forward, he or she is unable to look sideways. This is known as
the 'Alligator Head' effect. Suits well, doesn't it?