STS-135 was the last mission of the American Space Shuttle program. Its launch on July 8, 2011 from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida marked the beginning of the end of 30 years of the US manned space flight program. Since then, astronauts have been riding Russian rockets for International Space Station (ISS) trips.
In 2014, the Commercial Crew Development program of NASA raised the possibility of sending back astronauts to the ISS on an American spacecraft once again. The program rewarded contracts to both SpaceX and Boeing to build a craft that could do as such.
Both SpaceX and Boeing set a target date of 2017, but development proved to be more difficult than expected. As such, launch was pushed back to 2018.
SpaceX, headed by Elon Musk, has been launching cargo spacecrafts to transport supplies to the ISS. But the addition of people proved “way more difficult” and that the company needs to get things right.
Despite setbacks, both companies are on track to meet the latest projected 2018 launch. And with that date rapidly approaching, Musk finally unveiled what astronauts would be wearing aboard the Crew Dragon, SpaceX’s craft, on his Instagram in August.
The SpaceX Suit
The first image Musk shared on social media showed an astronaut wearing the suit, with the helmet and the shoulder area visible. SpaceX opted for the traditional white for its spacesuit but this time, with a sleeker look.
Musk didn’t share much about the suit on his Instagram and promised more in the coming days. He, however, did share an important detail: the suit works.
Musk said the suit has “already tested to double vacuum pressure.” The suits will be worn by astronauts during the flight to the ISS. Since they are pressure suits, they aren’t meant for spacewalks. The suit is meant to keep passengers alive until they can get to safety in case the capsule depressurizes.
A few days after he shared to SpaceX suit, Musk unveiled a second one, this time a full-body shot next to the Crew Dragon. More details about the suit can be seen, including the design of the gloves and the boots. The pants feature flex zones, which provides mobility when bending while the back portion looks to be padded to provide comfort while seated. The boots also look optimized for mobility.
Apart from the photo shared through Instagram, Musk hasn’t shared much about the spacesuits astronauts will be wearing.
“Race” with Boeing
Boeing is also developing its own spacecraft capable of carrying astronauts to the ISS. The CST-100 Starliner is also on course for a 2018 launch, an unmanned flight in June and a crewed flight in August.
The company already unveiled the spacesuits astronauts will be wearing on board their craft in January. They opted for blue and with the suit bearing features such as touchscreen-friendly gloves. The suit is also designed to be worn from the back, rather than being put on like traditional clothes.
Musk hasn’t revealed intricate details about the suits for Crew Dragon astronauts but it is expected to have similar or even better ease-of-use features.