astronaut

The NASA Village

Today in the NASA Village… A Hand in Everything.

Our spacesuits are built up from various piece parts, torso, arms with sizing rings, legs with sizing rings, boots, helmet, and gloves. The variation of the different pieces allows the engineers to construct a suit from generic hardware that fits, or at least come as close as they can make it. One of the most important elements of a spacesuit are our gloves. They are the only piece tailored specifically for us. Spacewalking is a bit of a misnomer on the International Space Station, since we don’t do any walking. We are floating and have to use our hands as the means for moving ourselves from place to place. This sped up example of one of my pool runs demonstrates this form of space “walking.”

With the increased pressure of the suit (to protect our bodies from the vacuum of space) and all the operations with our hands, it can be very fatiguing. Hence, the custom gloves allow us to work for longer periods of time, with much more dexterity for repairs.  

How do you make custom gloves?

Bobby Jones literally had a hand in everything, because his work included making my space suit gloves. He noted that “as part of the process, we traveled to Houston to make casts of the astronaut’s hands for use in the design process. The hand casts are very life like.  When I had these hands all over my office it looked like a zombie movie, where the dead are coming back to life and digging their way out of the ground.”

This scary looking hand looks familiar! Using the hand molds, the engineers make the design requirements for each aspect of the glove. They determine the EXACT dimensions that are required in order to have the knuckles bend in just the right places, with just enough spacing to allow the hands to flex more easily, but snug enough to provide the needed dexterity.

Then with those very precise patterns, the fingers and palm are hand-sewn within tenths of millimeters of margin!

Olga Bustos is shown sewing the fingers of a glove. She has been sewing gloves since the Apollo days and even participated in the construction of Apollo era space suits.  

The space suit has to be pressure-tight. In other words, while working in the vacuum of space, we don’t want any leaks! The inner lining of the suit is cut according to a very specific pattern and then the pieces are heat sealed together to form the barrier that protects us from the vacuum. You can see the yellow inner bladder being heat sealed by Whitney Lowery. You might be surprised that her degree is in fashion design!

There are other layers of protective material over the inner bladder, which is why you see the white fabric on the outer surface.

Fun facts you may not have known about spacesuits: The space suit weights 250 lbs with the backpack. 

The suit components come in sizes like medium, large and extra-large. (Females have to work that much harder in a spacesuit because of all the extra room).

The suits are all hand sewn on old sewing machines.

The gloves take 14 months to design and build.

Engineering is a good start, but they don’t teach space suit design in college. Get exposed to as many things as possible if you want to work on spacesuits someday.

Do you want more stories? Find our NASA Villagers here!

Astronaut Jeanette Epps to become first African-American space station crew member

  • Astronaut Jeanette Epps is gearing up to make history.
  • NASA announced Wednesday that Epps would be assigned to missions aboard the International Space Station in 2018
  • That makes her the space station’s soon-to-be first African-American crew member. The journey will be Epps’ first flight into space.
  • Epps will be the first African-American astronaut to live and work on the ISS — not a shuttle — for an extended period of time.
  • According to her NASA profile, Epps earned a Bachelor’s degree in physics from LeMoyne College in 1992. 
  • She completed a Master’s of science in 1994 and doctorate in aerospace engineering 2000, both from the University of Maryland. 
  • In 2002, Epps joined the CIA and worked as a technical intelligence officer for seven years. Read more

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The first American to orbit the Earth has died. John Glenn was the last surviving member of the original Mercury astronauts. He would later have a long political career as a U.S. senator, but that didn’t stop his pioneering ways.

Glenn made history a second time in 1998, when he flew aboard the shuttle Discovery to become the oldest person to fly in space. Glenn was 95; he had been hospitalized in Columbus, Ohio, since last week.

Glenn had been battling health issues since a stroke a few years ago. His death was confirmed Thursday by This was confirmed to NPR by Hank Wilson, communications director of the John Glenn College of Public Affairs at the Ohio State University.

John Glenn, First American To Orbit The Earth, Dies At 95

Photo: NASA/Getty Images