High (Like 240,000 Miles) Fashion: What Astronauts Wear to the Moon
We call it a spacesuit, almost as if it’s something an astronaut pulls out of the closet. It’s more accurate to think of it as an astronaut’s personal spacecraft: self-contained and functional, with a design focused on letting astronauts work safely in space. Just as we’ve been able to improve rockets, satellites and data systems over 60 years, we’ve made great improvements to spacesuits.
When the first woman and next man step foot on the Moon in 2024, they will be wearing the next generation of spacesuit, called the Exploration Extravehicular Mobility Unit, or xEMU for short. The new suit can be used under different conditions for various tasks, including walking, driving rovers or collecting samples. The design will also allow the suits to be used for spacewalks on the space station, or Gateway – our upcoming spaceship that will orbit the Moon. Future missions to Mars can build on the core suit technologies with additional upgrades for use in the Martian atmosphere and greater gravity.
60 Years of Improvements
Even before we had astronauts, pilots were using pressurized suits to fly at high speeds at altitudes where the air was too thin to breathe. Our first spacesuits – shown here worn by the first NASA astronauts in 1959 – were variations of the suit used by Navy test pilots.
The Gemini spacesuit – shown here in a photo of astronaut Ed White making the first American spacewalk in 1965 – added a line that could connect the astronaut to the spacecraft for oxygen, and which also served as a tether when they left the capsule for a spacewalk.
The Apollo astronauts had to completely separate themselves from the lunar module, so we added a portable life support unit, which the astronauts carried on their backs. The photo above shows the life support system on the suit of Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin as he deploys lunar experiments in 1969.
Though the bulky suits weren’t exactly easy to maneuver, astronauts still managed to get their jobs done and enjoy themselves doing it.
A Great Moment in Spacesuit History: Singing on the Moon
What, you wouldn’t sing if you were on the moon?
Different Suits for Different Functions
We have used different suits for different purposes. During the Space Shuttle program, astronauts inside the shuttle wore these orange “pumpkin” suits, which were designed to be worn within the cabin.
On spacewalks, special suits – made to be worn only outside the spacecraft – provided high mobility, more flexibility and life support as the astronauts worked in zero gravity.
During construction of the International Space Station, we should have issued a hard hat and a pair of steel-toed boots with each suit. Astronauts conducted more than 200 spacewalks as part of building the station, which took place from 1998 until 2011. Above, an astronaut at the end of the shuttle’s robotic arm is maneuvered back into the shuttle’s payload bay with a failed pump during the shuttle’s final flight in 2011.
Spacesuits are rarely the story themselves, but they make it possible for our astronauts to get their jobs done, even when they have to improvise. In the picture above, astronauts on a 1992 space shuttle mission are conducting a spacewalk they hadn’t originally planned on. The crew was originally supposed to use a specially designed grab bar to capture the INTELSAT VI satellite. Two attempts to use the grab bar on two-person spacewalks failed, so we improvised a plan to add a third spacewalker and have all three go outside and literally grab the satellite.