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Suit up for space

By Andrew Wright, 5 September 2014 News

Astronaut in spacesuit with Earth in background

Russian cosmonaut Sergey Ryazanskiy in a Russian Orlan spacesuit, is pictured during a session of extravehicular activity on the International Space Station.
Image: NASA

To boldly go out of the airlock, astronauts need to look the part. Donning a spacesuit protects astronauts from the dangerous conditions just beyond our atmosphere.

The outer layer of NASA’s Extravehicular Mobility Unit spacesuit is built tough from a blend of three fabrics. One fabric is the same stuff used in bulletproof vests. It protects an astronaut from space dust – small particles zooming at very high speeds that can cause punctures. It is also waterproof and fire-resistant.

Tethers keep the astronaut attached to the spacecraft so they don’t float away. If they did, the astronaut could use their SAFER, a backpack thruster containing nitrogen gas that allows them to move in space using a small joystick.

The backpack also contains oxygen for breathing and removes carbon dioxide that is exhaled. Too much carbon dioxide, especially in a small space, can be poisonous.

Temperatures can get extremely cold in space. To stop astronauts becoming icicles, spacesuits are built with layers of insulation to keep body heat in like a human thermos. The gloves are also fitted with fingertip heaters.

As well as suits for spacewalking, NASA has bright ‘pumpkin suits’ used during launch and re-entry. They come in the fashionable colour ‘international orange’, which is recognised around the world as a colour to help rescuers.  Equipped with a parachute, life raft and a flotation device, the pumpkin suits are designed for emergency situations.

More information

Build your own International Space Station out of paper
Read about the time that some astronauts didn’t make it to space

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