With the successful launch of the SpaceX Crew Dragon Demo-2 mission on Saturday and its docking with the International Space Station yesterday, astronauts Douglas Hurley and Robert Behnken have made history. Hurley (nicknamed “Chunky” from his days as a Marine Corps fighter pilot) and Behnken (Dr. Bob for his PhD in rocket science) are not only the Dragon’s first pilots; they’re also the first NASA astronauts to launch from US soil in decades.
The two astronauts also sent up some rockets for the style of their next-generation spacesuits. The suits were the collaboration of Elon Musk’s team at SpaceX and Hollywood designer Jose Fernandez, whose studio was behind highly successful costumes for The Avengers, X-Men, Fantastic 4, Batman v Superman and Men in Black. Fernandez’s initial breakthrough design came in the 1989 movie Gremlins.
On the Dragon project, Fernandez first designed the helmet. Musk liked it so much, he asked for the whole spacesuit. The first attempt was a moody, Tony Stark-Ironman look that Musk wore for a Vogue photo shoot. The newer sleeker, All-American versions look more like a white tuxedo with a hint of Star Wars stormtrooper. The new suits are certainly more imaginative than the all-in-one “orange pumpkin” launch-and-entry ACES suits worn by the last generation of NASA astronauts. The slightly oval-shaped helmets are also much smaller than the previous-generation bubble helmets.
“Musk kept saying, anyone looks better in tux, no matter what size or shape they are,” Fernandez told Bleep magazine.
Beyond style, the spacesuits need to function as such, providing protection from loss of air pressure in the capsule. Weighing about 20 lbs., they are made from a type of fire-retardant Kevlar and Nomex. A single connection point on the suit’s thigh provides air and power connections. The gloves are designed to work with touchscreen controls on the capsule’s dashboard. The helmet was made using 3-D printing technology and includes integrated valves, mechanisms for visor retraction and locking, and microphones.
“One of the things that was important in the development of this suit was to make it easy to use, something that the crew just has to literally plug in when they sit down, and then the suit kind of takes care of itself from there,” said Chris Tripp of SpaceX in the NASA video highlighting the suits. “It’s really part of the vehicle, so we think of it as a kind of suit-seat system.”
“It took us three, almost four years to design these suits that both look good and work well,” added Musk in a recent interview. “We want to inspire kids to say that one day they want to wear that uniform. What today is about is reigniting the dream of space.”
In contrast to the new spacesuits, NASA has also gone retro with its older “worm” logo that graced the side of the Dragon’s first stage.
The astronauts will wear the spacesuits once again on their return on the Dragon capsule from the ISS. The return date has not yet been determined. The mission could last around 110 days.