The Challenges of Spacesuit Design

Humans have always longed to get off the ground and explore from a new perspective – the skies. However, flying higher and higher caused problems – human beings are not designed to be able to withstand the conditions that were found at such high altitudes, and the lack of oxygen was the biggest issue for those who were seeking to fly at higher altitudes.

It quickly became apparent that in order to be able to allow humans to fly higher in the skies and to eventually leave the planet completely and explore space, engineers needed to find a way to sustain them and create for them an environment in which they could live.

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Rubber is one of the key components in this – as well as the fact that there is no oxygen at higher altitudes and in space, another problem was the fact that temperatures could be very extreme – far too extreme for a human body to be able to handle without the right protection in place. Fortunately, rubber is able to withstand much larger extremes of temperature, and so it was a sensible idea to coat suits that were to be worn in space with neoprene rubber.

In fact rubber was also used to keep the craft itself protected from temperature changes and to keep the oxygen and pressure in the ship. To this day, places like this rubber moulding UK based company form rubber to the correct shapes that can then be used by aerospace engineers.

The first space suits used for the Mercury program, America’s first set of seven astronauts, which included John Glenn and Alan Shepherd, were futuristic looking specimens which could be pressurised in case the cabin pressure failed. However, as the Gemini program started, space walks were on the cards and the suits needed to be changed to allow astronauts to operate whilst actually floating in the vacuum of space.

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Cool air was pumped into a neoprene bladder which was then covered in a Teflon covered material to strengthen the suit in case of impacts from small bits of space debris. This was a design that worked ok for its job, but the air cooling system had to be changed for the suit design for Apollo, as it wasn’t able to keep astronauts cool enough for long enough periods to walk on the moon, and so the water-cooling system was born.

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