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Here’s every key spacesuit NASA astronauts have worn since the 1960s — and the new moon suit it just unveiled

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NASA astronauts have donned a lot of different spacesuits over the decades.Dragan Radovanovic/Business Insider
  • NASA unveiled the suit astronauts will wear during the 2025 Artemis III moon mission.
  • The new Extravehicular Mobility Unit spacesuit was developed by private company Axiom Space.
  • NASA gave astronauts their first operational spacesuits in the early 1960s.

Space may be the final frontier, but it’s wildly inaccessible and downright deadly to any plucky human without a great spacesuit.

Astronauts are scheduled to return to the moon for the first time in 50 years in 2025 with NASA’s Artemis III mission. The space agency just unveiled a new fit for the occasion, developed by private company Axiom Space.

NASA hired Axiom to build its latest spacesuits in June 2022, after it spent years and millions trying to develop its own. In August 2021, the agency reported that despite spending $420 million since 2017, its own suits wouldn’t be ready for space before April 2025 “at the earliest.”

Axiom’s new Extravehicular Mobility Unit leverages NASA’s own exploration version, introduced in 2019.

But the very first operational spacesuits were introduced in the early 1960s to protect high-flying astronauts as they risk their lives in the name of space exploration.

From the silvery suits of the Mercury program to Elon Musk’s sleek Crew Dragon suits, here’s how astronauts’ spacesuits have evolved over six decades.

Mercury Suit (1961-1963)

mercury 1961 1963 nasa spacesuit business insidermercury 1961 1963 nasa spacesuit business insider
Jenny Cheng/Business Insider

Project Mercury marked the first time US citizens ventured into orbit around Earth.

To protect the first astronauts from sudden pressure loss, NASA modified high-altitude jet-aircraft pressure suits from the US Navy. Each space suit had a layer of neoprene-coated nylon on the inside and aluminized nylon on the outside (to keep the suit’s inner temperature as stable as possible).

Six astronauts flew into space wearing the suit before NASA retired it from service.

Gemini Suit (1965-1966)

gemini flight suit 1965 1966 nasa spacesuit business insidergemini flight suit 1965 1966 nasa spacesuit business insider
Jenny Cheng/Business Insider

Gemini was NASA’s second space program — and one with more ambitious goals. The Gemini capsule carried a two-astronaut crew into space, and had one (uncomfortable) mission that lasted two weeks.

The David Clark Company designed Gemini suits to be flexible when pressurized, and took extra steps to make them more comfortable than Mercury suits. For example, they could be connected to a portable air conditioner to keep the astronauts cool until they could hook up to the spacecraft’s lines. These suits weighed 16-34 pounds.

Gemini Spacewalk Suit (1965-1966)

gemini spacewalk suit 1965 1966 nasa spacesuit business insidergemini spacewalk suit 1965 1966 nasa spacesuit business insider
Jenny Cheng/Business Insider

One type of Gemini suit, called G4C, was designed with NASA’s first spacewalks in mind. Astronauts would open the hatch during these ventures and leave the safety of their vehicle to work in the vacuum of space.

To withstand the harsh space environment, the suit connected the astronauts to the spacecraft via a hose, which supplied them with oxygen. In case there was a problem, though, some variants of the suit provided up to 30 minutes of backup life support. The heaviest variant weighed about 34 pounds.

Apollo Spacewalk Suit (1967-1975)

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Jenny Cheng/Business Insider

The Apollo program brought astronauts to the moon, and it was no walk in the park. The astronauts needed more protection than either the Gemini or Mercury suits could offer.

The first people to walk the moon required a shield against fine regolith (dust as sharp as glass); protection from wild temperature swings from sun to shade; the flexibility to install gear and pick up moon rocks; and the ability to last for hours away from a spacecraft.

The suit came with a dozen layers of fabric, thick boots, and a robust life-support system. Each weighed more than 180 pounds on Earth, but just one-sixth as much in the moon’s weaker gravity field.

First Space Shuttle Flight Suit (1981)

first space shuttle flight suit 1981 nasa spacesuit business insiderfirst space shuttle flight suit 1981 nasa spacesuit business insider
Jenny Cheng/Business Insider

A mission called STS-1 — short for Space Transportation System-1 — was the first orbital spaceflight of NASA’s space shuttle program.

Columbia, the first 100-ton orbiter, carried a two-astronaut crew into space and orbited Earth 37 times before reentering the atmosphere and gliding back to a runway. Astronauts weren’t venturing outside, so they only wore an emergency ejection escape suit, which (like the Mercury suit) was a modified version of a US Air Force high-altitude pressure suit.

Extravehicular Mobility Unit (1979-present)

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Jenny Cheng/Business Insider

Astronauts of the space-shuttle era would work regularly in space to maintain satellites as well as construct and maintain the International Space Station (ISS).

They needed a workhorse spacewalk suit for such tasks, so NASA created the Extravehicular Mobility Unit. This 14-layer pressurized suit could withstand the harsh void of space and keep astronauts alive for more than eight hours. Fully loaded with gear and supplies, it could weigh nearly 320 pounds on Earth.

NASA also tested a jetpack-like device for the EMU, called a Manned Maneuvering Unit, that allowed astronauts to fly around free and untethered. People on board the ISS today use an advanced version of EMUs to maintain the space station.

Space Shuttle Flight Suit (1988-2011)

space shuttle orange flight suit 1988 2011 nasa spacesuit business insiderspace shuttle orange flight suit 1988 2011 nasa spacesuit business insider
Jenny Cheng/Business Insider

The suit that astronauts wore during the Space Shuttle program is sometimes called a “pumpkin suit” for its bright orange color. The suit is equipped with gloves on disconnecting lock rings on the wrist, liquid cooling, improved ventilation, and extra layers of insulation.

Sokol Launch and Entry Suit (present)

sokol present iss soyuz russia nasa spacesuit business insidersokol present iss soyuz russia nasa spacesuit business insider
Jenny Cheng/Business Insider

The sharp, blue-lined spacesuit you see many astronauts wearing today is actually a Russian suit called the Sokol or “Falcon” spacesuit.

The 22-pound suit is pretty similar to the space shuttle flight suit, though it’s used to protect people who fly inside Russia’s Soyuz spacecraft.

SpaceX Crew Dragon Flight Suit (2020 – present)

crew dragon est 2018 2019 nasa spacesuit business insidercrew dragon est 2018 2019 nasa spacesuit business insider
Jenny Cheng/Business Insider

The sleek white spacesuits were designed by Elon Musk’s company SpaceX. Musk unveiled them during a press conference in 2017, and NASA astronauts Bob Nehnken and Doug Hurley first used them when they flew into space in a SpaceX capsule in May 2020 with the Crew Dragon mission.

Jose Fernandez, a Hollywood costume designer that has worked on movies like X-Men: Dark Phoenix, Aquaman, and Thor: Ragnarok, came up with the design. While elegant and futuristic, the suits were only made for the Crew Dragon capsule and are not suitable for taking a space walk.

Crew Dragons are used to transport NASA astronauts to and from the International Space Station, as well as for commercial flights.

Boeing CST-100 Starliner Flight Suit (2022 – present)

cst 100 starliner est 2018 2019 nasa spacesuit business insidercst 100 starliner est 2018 2019 nasa spacesuit business insider
Jenny Cheng/Business Insider

First expected in 2019, Boeing unveiled its bright blue Starliner flight suit in June 2022. It is designed to be used on the CST-100 Starliner capsules, which are expected to take their first crew to space imminently.

The suit includes a helmet attached with a thick, air-tight zipper (no heavy or bulky neck ring required).

Axiom Extravehicular Mobility Unit suit (2023)

Axiom Space's AxEMY Next Generation spacesuit.Axiom Space's AxEMY Next Generation spacesuit.
Axiom Space’s AxEMY Next Generation spacesuit.Manny Jawa/ Axiom Space

The Axiom Extravehicular Mobility Unit suits, or AxEMUs, will be delivered to NASA by the summer. The dark gray and orange version unveiled in March 2023 is a prototype, and the final version will be white.

Astronauts have to wear white when on the moon to reflect heat and protect themselves from high temperatures.

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Las Vegas Aces Rookie Kate Martin Suffers Ankle Injury in Game Against Chicago Sky

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Las Vegas Aces rookie Kate Martin had to be helped off the floor and taken to the locker room after suffering an apparent ankle injury in the first quarter of Tuesday night’s game against the Chicago Sky.

Late in the first quarter, Martin was pushing the ball up the court when she appeared to twist her ankle and lost her balance. The rookie was in serious pain, lying on the floor before eventually being helped off. Her entire team came out in support, and although she managed to put some pressure on the leg, she was taken to the locker room for further evaluation.

Martin returned to the team’s bench late in the second quarter but was ruled out for the remainder of the game.

“Kate Martin is awesome. Kate Martin picks up things so quickly, she’s an amazing sponge,” Aces guard Kelsey Plum said of the rookie during the preseason. “I think (coach) Becky (Hammon) nicknamed her Kate ‘Money’ Martin. I think that’s gonna stick. And when I say ‘money,’ it’s not just about scoring and stuff, she’s just in the right place at the right time. She just makes people better. And that’s what Becky values, that’s what our coaching staff values and that’s why she’s gonna be a great asset to our team.”

Las Vegas selected Martin in the second round of the 2024 WNBA Draft. She was coming off the best season of her collegiate career at Iowa, where she averaged 13.1 points, 6.8 rebounds, and 2.3 assists per game during the 2023-24 campaign. Martin’s integration into the Aces organization has been seamless, with her quickly earning the respect and admiration of her teammates and coaches.

The team and fans alike are hoping for a speedy recovery for Martin, whose contributions have been vital to the Aces’ performance this season.

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Asteroid Apophis will visit Earth in 2029, and this European satellite will be along for the ride

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The European Space Agency is fast-tracking a new mission called Ramses, which will fly to near-Earth asteroid 99942 Apophis and join the space rock in 2029 when it comes very close to our planet — closer even than the region where geosynchronous satellites sit.

Ramses is short for Rapid Apophis Mission for Space Safety and, as its name suggests, is the next phase in humanity’s efforts to learn more about near-Earth asteroids (NEOs) and how we might deflect them should one ever be discovered on a collision course with planet Earth.

In order to launch in time to rendezvous with Apophis in February 2029, scientists at the European Space Agency have been given permission to start planning Ramses even before the multinational space agency officially adopts the mission. The sanctioning and appropriation of funding for the Ramses mission will hopefully take place at ESA’s Ministerial Council meeting (involving representatives from each of ESA’s member states) in November of 2025. To arrive at Apophis in February 2029, launch would have to take place in April 2028, the agency says.

This is a big deal because large asteroids don’t come this close to Earth very often. It is thus scientifically precious that, on April 13, 2029, Apophis will pass within 19,794 miles (31,860 kilometers) of Earth. For comparison, geosynchronous orbit is 22,236 miles (35,786 km) above Earth’s surface. Such close fly-bys by asteroids hundreds of meters across (Apophis is about 1,230 feet, or 375 meters, across) only occur on average once every 5,000 to 10,000 years. Miss this one, and we’ve got a long time to wait for the next.

When Apophis was discovered in 2004, it was for a short time the most dangerous asteroid known, being classified as having the potential to impact with Earth possibly in 2029, 2036, or 2068. Should an asteroid of its size strike Earth, it could gouge out a crater several kilometers across and devastate a country with shock waves, flash heating and earth tremors. If it crashed down in the ocean, it could send a towering tsunami to devastate coastlines in multiple countries.

Over time, as our knowledge of Apophis’ orbit became more refined, however, the risk of impact  greatly went down. Radar observations of the asteroid in March of 2021 reduced the uncertainty in Apophis’ orbit from hundreds of kilometers to just a few kilometers, finally removing any lingering worries about an impact — at least for the next 100 years. (Beyond 100 years, asteroid orbits can become too unpredictable to plot with any accuracy, but there’s currently no suggestion that an impact will occur after 100 years.) So, Earth is expected to be perfectly safe in 2029 when Apophis comes through. Still, scientists want to see how Apophis responds by coming so close to Earth and entering our planet’s gravitational field.

“There is still so much we have yet to learn about asteroids but, until now, we have had to travel deep into the solar system to study them and perform experiments ourselves to interact with their surface,” said Patrick Michel, who is the Director of Research at CNRS at Observatoire de la Côte d’Azur in Nice, France, in a statement. “Nature is bringing one to us and conducting the experiment itself. All we need to do is watch as Apophis is stretched and squeezed by strong tidal forces that may trigger landslides and other disturbances and reveal new material from beneath the surface.”

The Goldstone radar’s imagery of asteroid 99942 Apophis as it made its closest approach to Earth, in March 2021. (Image credit: NASA/JPL–Caltech/NSF/AUI/GBO)

By arriving at Apophis before the asteroid’s close encounter with Earth, and sticking with it throughout the flyby and beyond, Ramses will be in prime position to conduct before-and-after surveys to see how Apophis reacts to Earth. By looking for disturbances Earth’s gravitational tidal forces trigger on the asteroid’s surface, Ramses will be able to learn about Apophis’ internal structure, density, porosity and composition, all of which are characteristics that we would need to first understand before considering how best to deflect a similar asteroid were one ever found to be on a collision course with our world.

Besides assisting in protecting Earth, learning about Apophis will give scientists further insights into how similar asteroids formed in the early solar system, and, in the process, how  planets (including Earth) formed out of the same material.

One way we already know Earth will affect Apophis is by changing its orbit. Currently, Apophis is categorized as an Aten-type asteroid, which is what we call the class of near-Earth objects that have a shorter orbit around the sun than Earth does. Apophis currently gets as far as 0.92 astronomical units (137.6 million km, or 85.5 million miles) from the sun. However, our planet will give Apophis a gravitational nudge that will enlarge its orbit to 1.1 astronomical units (164.6 million km, or 102 million miles), such that its orbital period becomes longer than Earth’s.

It will then be classed as an Apollo-type asteroid.

Ramses won’t be alone in tracking Apophis. NASA has repurposed their OSIRIS-REx mission, which returned a sample from another near-Earth asteroid, 101955 Bennu, in 2023. However, the spacecraft, renamed OSIRIS-APEX (Apophis Explorer), won’t arrive at the asteroid until April 23, 2029, ten days after the close encounter with Earth. OSIRIS-APEX will initially perform a flyby of Apophis at a distance of about 2,500 miles (4,000 km) from the object, then return in June that year to settle into orbit around Apophis for an 18-month mission.

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Furthermore, the European Space Agency still plans on launching its Hera spacecraft in October 2024 to follow-up on the DART mission to the double asteroid Didymos and Dimorphos. DART impacted the latter in a test of kinetic impactor capabilities for potentially changing a hazardous asteroid’s orbit around our planet. Hera will survey the binary asteroid system and observe the crater made by DART’s sacrifice to gain a better understanding of Dimorphos’ structure and composition post-impact, so that we can place the results in context.

The more near-Earth asteroids like Dimorphos and Apophis that we study, the greater that context becomes. Perhaps, one day, the understanding that we have gained from these missions will indeed save our planet.

 

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McMaster Astronomy grad student takes a star turn in Killarney Provincial Park

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Astronomy PhD candidate Veronika Dornan served as the astronomer in residence at Killarney Provincial Park. She’ll be back again in October when the nights are longer (and bug free). Dornan has delivered dozens of talks and shows at the W.J. McCallion Planetarium and in the community. (Photos by Veronika Dornan)

Veronika Dornan followed up the April 8 total solar eclipse with another awe-inspiring celestial moment.

This time, the astronomy PhD candidate wasn’t cheering alongside thousands of people at McMaster — she was alone with a telescope in the heart of Killarney Provincial Park just before midnight.

Dornan had the park’s telescope pointed at one of the hundreds of globular star clusters that make up the Milky Way. She was seeing light from thousands of stars that had travelled more than 10,000 years to reach the Earth.

This time there was no cheering: All she could say was a quiet “wow”.

Dornan drove five hours north to spend a week at Killarney Park as the astronomer in residence. part of an outreach program run by the park in collaboration with the Allan I. Carswell Observatory at York University.

Dornan applied because the program combines her two favourite things — astronomy and the great outdoors. While she’s a lifelong camper, hiker and canoeist, it was her first trip to Killarney.

Bruce Waters, who’s taught astronomy to the public since 1981 and co-founded Stars over Killarney, warned Dornan that once she went to the park, she wouldn’t want to go anywhere else.

The park lived up to the hype. Everywhere she looked was like a painting, something “a certain Group of Seven had already thought many times over.”

The dome telescopes at Killarney Provincial Park.

She spent her days hiking the Granite Ridge, Crack and Chikanishing trails and kayaking on George Lake.  At night, she went stargazing with campers — or at least tried to. The weather didn’t cooperate most evenings — instead of looking through the park’s two domed telescopes, Dornan improvised and gave talks in the amphitheatre beneath cloudy skies.

Dornan has delivered dozens of talks over the years in McMaster’s W.J. McCallion Planetarium and out in the community, but “it’s a bit more complicated when you’re talking about the stars while at the same time fighting for your life against swarms of bugs.”

When the campers called it a night and the clouds parted, Dornan spent hours observing the stars. “I seriously messed up my sleep schedule.”

She also gave astrophotography a try during her residency, capturing images of the Ring Nebula and the Great Hercules Cluster.

A star cluster image by Veronika Dornan

“People assume astronomers take their own photos. I needed quite a lot of guidance for how to take the images. It took a while to fiddle with the image properties, but I got my images.”

Dornan’s been invited back for another week-long residency in bug-free October, when longer nights offer more opportunities to explore and photograph the final frontier.

She’s aiming to defend her PhD thesis early next summer, then build a career that continues to combine research and outreach.

“Research leads to new discoveries which gives you exciting things to talk about. And if you’re not connecting with the public then what’s the point of doing research?”

 

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