The new era of space travel is seemingly upon us after Elon Musk uploaded a picture of a new spacesuit to his Instagram. The caption made sure to point out that “this actually works [not a mock-up].” At present, there is no confirmation on whether the suit is to be worn only in the spaceship or if it can be taken out of the ship on spacewalks, but from the image, it can be assumed it is only meant for indoor usage.
A lot of speculation surrounds Musk’s Instagram post. In the caption, he cited the safety tests used, saying it was “Already tested to double vacuum pressure.” Many have questioned what this actually means as a vacuum is defined as being a space with an absence of matter. How can there be a double vacuum? Members of science forums have stated that a double vacuum simply refers to a difference of pressure inside the suit to outside. More specifically it is expected that the suit was inflated to twice the pressure of sea level and then placed into a vacuum to confirm that the suit was extremely safe.
Musk has managed to twin functionality and design, and this is definitely not an accident. It “Was incredibly hard to balance esthetics [sic] and function. Easy to do either separately.” Captions Musk. If you think it resembles a costume worn in a superhero or a sci-fi movie, then you are not mistaken. Jose Fernandez, a famous costume designer, has been heavily involved in this project. Previously, he has worked on costumes for Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine, the Fantastic 4 and the Batman v. Superman film. Fernandez said, “when people put this spacesuit on, he wants them to look better than they did without it, like a tux. You look heroic in it.” He has definitely succeeded here.
This suit has been made for SpaceX, Musk’s aerospace manufacturer and space travel company. Founded in 2002, SpaceX has gone from strength to strength, with achievements such as the first privately funded liquid-propellant rocket to reach orbit, the first reuse of an orbital rocket; and the first private company to send a spacecraft to the International Space Station (ISS). The company has had a few setbacks in their time, with a Falcon-9 rocket exploding in 2016. This is the type of rocket that is meant to transport a Dragon capsule to the ISS, loaded with astronauts.
SpaceX’s biggest rivalry at the moment is Boeing, competing over the design and development of a spacecraft capable of transporting astronauts to the ISS. Boeing’s Starliner is scheduled to complete crew test flights in 2018 but their deadlines have been postponed in the past. SpaceX is working on a similar timeline, however, Boeing, in collaboration with NASA, revealed their spacesuit before Musk and SpaceX. This is no indication that Boeing is closer to finalising their spacecraft than SpaceX. Only time will tell.
Boeing’s spacesuit was released on the 25th of January 2017. It features a bulkier design compared to SpaceX and sports a deep blue colour. NASA has claimed that this new design is lighter and more flexible than previous suits, utilising advanced materials and new joint patterns; features touchscreen-sensitive gloves and has special vents that allow for water vapour to pass out of the suit, whilst preventing the air from leaving. The overall suit is ten pounds lighter than the previous version, with strategically placed zippers so the suit’s shape can be altered for standing and sitting.
Space travel is advancing further and further. The only question now is when commercial space travel will be available.