They say the clothes make the man. Perhaps nowhere is that more true than on space missions, where astronauts (both male and female) are at their most iconic when donning a spacesuit.
The main job of a spacesuit is to protect its wearer. During spacewalks, it must provide a breathable atmosphere, allow for easy movement and maintain steady communications with a spacecraft. The outfit has to moderate temperature extremes — the sun’s rays can heat an astronaut up to 248 degrees Fahrenheit while the darkness of space can create chills of -256 degrees — and be tough enough to protect against bombardment by dangerous micrometeorites.
Like all fashion, the spacesuit is subject to change. Early designs grew out of the pressurized suits worn by trailblazing pilots in hot air balloons and airplanes. Since then, spacesuits have grown into machines of impressive complexity, even becoming miniature spacecraft that fly independently. Spacesuits have allowed people to grab rocks from the lunar surface, make repairs on the Hubble Space Telescope, or float through the void while gazing down at the planet below.
Here, Wired Science takes a look at the evolution of this sometimes underappreciated garment.
A Russian Orlan model spacesuit soars above the blue Earth. This particular spacesuit was no longer needed and so was filled up with batteries, internal sensors and a radio transmitter and released into a decaying orbit on Feb. 3, 2006. Designated SuitSat, the empty vessel burned up in the atmosphere a few weeks later.