Making NASA’s Space Suit.



When NASA began planning trips to the Moon, the one area they had literally no experience in was building a space suit that could withstand the lethal cold vacuum of the surface of the Moon. The only ideas they had were dictated by a combination of clothing material configurations created in science fiction and fantasy, and deep sea diver’s outfits. Essentially the suits were balloons that filled with air and had to be flexible enough to allow the astronaut to work. They had to cool the operator or warm them in temperatures that could flit from -300º to +300º in a second.


When the Apollo program began NASA was looking for a suit that could hold 3.5 PSI of air without exploding, collapsing, leaking or melting. In 1962 Requests for proposals were sent to ten companies and eight of them created entries.


Oddly the company that made the most sense as a supply source was Playtex. Yes, they made flexible rubber bras and girdles and were the first company that could create a flexible arm or leg joint, called a convolute, in the suit. Up until this moment diving helmets and rigid rubber suits were the best possible combination of materials to use.


Playtex created a division to build the space suit and it was called ILC. ILC was paired with Hamilton Standard, a military hardware manufacturer. Hamilton Standard administered the contract for ILC since the fabric company had no experience in government contracts. It was a bad pairing of companies. The work ethic was different and the call for speed versus quality badly hampered ILC. Another major technical glitch with the new flexible suits was an inability to cool the astronaut inside the suit. ILC looked at a British invention that was a garment lined with tiny PVC tubes with cool water. They created their own version of it and tested it. It worked to keep the astronaut cool, but the suit was too bulky to move about the command module in.


ILC lost the contract.


Soon enough they were invited back, as was Hamilton Standard, but as competitors now. ILC submitted a new three layer suit that include a cooling garment, a working suit over that and then a thermal and micrometeriorite protection. This new suit was lithe compared to the bulky early offerings.


At the end of the day, ILC won, given the chance to create what they felt was right, and remove themselves from the business process.


The gloves were created with a flexible woven material made from chromium. Steel Chromium cost $2000 a yard but it worked like magic. The tragedy of January 27th, 1967 when the Apollo One Command Module burned three space suits with astronauts inside them. This time, all the flammable material had to come off of the outer layer.


It took a total of 8 years to make this suit, but a non flammable Micrometeroid Garment was invented and on Apollo 8,9, 10, and 11, this space suit made history





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