In preparation for the scheduled 2018 launch of their Starliner spacecraft, Boeing has unveiled an innovative redesign of the traditional astronaut’s space suit.
In the service of crawling out from beneath Russia’s current monopoly on spaceflight, NASA contractors Boeing and SpaceX continue to push toward the completion of next-generation American craft. And while both are working hard on their respective rocket designs, Boeing was eager to demonstrate another vital element of the mission: The next generation of space suit.
The “Boeing Blue” suit is leaner, lighter, more mobile, and sports quality of life improvements across the board. Crew and Mission Systems Director Chris Ferguson explained, “Astronauts had formerly had these relatively bulky, heavy suits with thick neck rings. And we learned throughout the years that maybe we didn’t need that.”
The new suit has been “simplified,” replacing the sealed neck-ring with a heavy air-tight zipper, and adding breathable mesh beneath the surface to maximize comfort, mobility, and airflow. They are offering “pressurized mobility, while still preserving unpressurized comfort.” Its gloves have been enhanced with special material on the palms and two of the fingers to allow for “capacitative” touch screen interaction. That means that astronauts can now interact with their capsule’s advanced touch interfaces, without leaving the protection of the suit.
It’s also much lighter. While current space suits come in at a hefty 33 lbs, the Boeing design is barely 12. Ferguson claims that you can lie in the cockpit without any real need for external cooling, and it is comfortable enough to stand around in without developing an uncomfortable “heat load.”
The boots are “breathable and slip resistant,” and zippers on the torso have been designed to make it easier for a suited individual to “comfortably transition between sitting and standing.” And, of course, the head provides start-of-the-art communications built right in, and significant improvements to peripheral vision.
Despite the current — and somewhat convoluted — challenge of getting our intrepid men and women into space right now, we’re finally getting on track for a return to the forefront of extra-planetary tech. And we’re doing it in style.
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