SpaceX is about to send NASA astronauts into space, and it’s going to do it in style.
The Crew Dragon spacesuit, intended for SpaceX-supported missions to and from the International Space Station, was pictured during a visit to the company’s headquarters on Thursday. NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine met with CEO Elon Musk and other members of the SpaceX team. The visit also included Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley, the two astronauts expected to fly on the first-ever crewed test mission.
The launch is a big moment for both NASA and SpaceX. For the former, it’s another step toward bringing astronaut launches closer to its base of operations, with trips to the space station currently managed by Roscosmos at Kazakhstan’s Baikonur Cosmodrome. For the latter, it’s a chance to demonstrate its ability to send humans into space, setting it up for more ambitious missions like building a city on Mars.
When Behnken and Hurley lift off during the “Demo-2” mission, expected in the first quarter of 2020, the pair will don this suit:
The sharp, sleek spacesuit features the logos of both NASA and SpaceX, demonstrating the collaboration between the two groups. Based on previous hands-on impressions, the pair should be in for a treat.
SpaceX’s spacesuit: how we got here
Spacesuits have gone through a number of iterations over the years. Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin wore the SK-1 suit when he became the first human in space in 1961, a suit that weighed 44 pounds. The Apollo A7L, used to walk on the moon in 1969, packed six hours of life support and weighed 200 pounds.
In a rather more modern approach to spaceflight, SpaceX’s suit was unveiled in August 2017 by Musk via Instagram:
“First picture of SpaceX spacesuit,” Musk said in the post. “More in days to follow. Worth noting that this actually works (not a mockup). Already tested to double vacuum pressure. Was incredibly hard to balance esthetics and function. Easy to do either separately.”
In the comments section of the original post, Musk seemed to suggest that the suit may have been inspired by science fiction video games Halo and Mass Effect.
The following month, Musk shared a full body shot of the suit:
The suit has seen a number of appearances since. The first test launch of the Falcon Heavy rocket in February 2018 featured a dummy called “Starman” fitted with the suit, sat in the driver’s seat of a red Tesla Roadster. The iconic image of the car making its way around the solar system cemented SpaceX’s public image as a firm keen to execute eye-catching missions.
In November 2018, Behnken and Hurley were videoed trying out the suit during a Crew Dragon test preparation:
The first demonstration launch of the Crew Dragon in March 2019, “Demo-1,” also featured a dummy fitted with the SpaceX suit. “Ripley” was fitted with sensors for SpaceX to understand how humans may feel inside the capsule.
In August 2019, Behnken and Hurley were again pictured suiting up in the SpaceX suit during a training event at the SpaceX headquarters in Hawthorne, California.
Unlike the prototype versions, the new suit appears to show more patches on the arms and other parts.
How does it feel? Astronaut Sunita Williams, who has tried both the SpaceX suit and Boeing’s suit, told Business Insider in July 2018 that the SpaceX kit “has like a motorcycle helmet that comes down and in clips in easy…an outer cover layer makes the suit look a little bit more slim-lined.” Williams added that the suits are “both better than suits that we’ve had in the past.”
With SpaceX also planning trips to the Moon and Mars, the suit may see more outings soon.