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Suit up for space

By , 5 September 2014

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

What is a spacesuit?
Play with this clickable suit from NASA.

This story first appeared in Scientriffic, CSIRO’s science magazine for kids.

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