It seems like the space industry is taking inspirational cues from the Trump administration’s latest policies and deciding to do a throwback to eras past. At least, that may be one reason why Boeing’s new spacesuits have such a keenly retro look to them. On Wednesday, the aerospace company unveiled a new ocean blue spacesuit design that NASA astronauts will don when they go up to the International Space Station aboard Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner spacecraft.
Here’s the deal — since shuttering the space shuttle program, NASA has had to rely on Russia to send U.S. astronauts into space. NASA has elected instead to turn over human exploration launches to Earth’s orbit to the private industry. The agency is contracting future missions to the International Space Station out to Boeing and SpaceX. While that work has run into some really bad hiccups as of late, both companies are making progress — and that includes the attire the astronauts riding onboard Starliner and Dragon (SpaceXs vehicle).
The new suits, called “Boeing Blue” and designed by the David Clark Company, were constructed just for the ride into space and to the space station. They’re light, flexible, and meant to help protect someone during the rigors of launch while being as comfortable as possible. There are even vents that will allow astronauts to lower their internal temperature if they feel it getting too hot inside. The Starliner suits are more mobile than current launch suits, and use touchscreen-friendly gloves to let the crew interact with the spacecraft’s controls during the ride. (That’s lovely news for astronauts who are afraid of seeing their fingernails fall off in space.)
As Gizmodo points out, the design of the suits themselves harken back a bit to the old Stanley Kubrick film, 2001: A Space Odyssey.
Boeing’s design is quite distinct from other concepts for future spacesuits. In 2015, NASA released a video that showed off a new kind of outerwear that’s optimized for exploring other planets and moons. Since Boeing’s space ferrying is going to be limited to the ISS and other platforms in low Earth orbit, this spacesuit won’t be used on any spacewalks or any instances where the crew need to go outside the vehicle.
“The spacesuit acts as the emergency backup to the spacecraft’s redundant life support systems,” said Richard Watson, subsystem manager for spacesuits for NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, in a news release. “If everything goes perfectly on a mission, then you don’t need a spacesuit. It’s like having a fire extinguisher close by in the cockpit. You need it to be effective if it is needed.”