Why do astronauts wear space suits? Is the space environment dangerous for humans? In this article, we examined astronaut suits.


Astronauts must be wearing their spacesuits when they get out of their spacecraft and are exposed to the "space environment," but why?

So what could be done to avoid these and similar dangers?

If you are going to go to space one day, perhaps the most important thing to take with you may be the spacesuit. Spacesuits are like a small spacecraft and protect astronauts from dangers in space. The Primary Life Support System (PLSS), which looks like a backpack, provides the suit with pressurized oxygen and ventilation while removing carbon dioxide, water vapor, and trace contaminants.

The spacesuits used on the International Space Station today remain there all the time. In other words, astronauts do not have their own space suit. The same spacesuit can be worn by several astronauts, according to the assignments from the Mission Control Center. 

So can every astronaut wear the same spacesuit?

As you can imagine, the physical structure of every astronaut is not the same. Some astronauts may be tall, some are short, some may be a little leaner or overweight than others. It is precisely for this reason that astronauts have space suits in three different sizes (small, medium and large) that they use on the International Space Station. Since the connection points of these spacesuit are the same, an astronaut can make a special combination from these three different sizes if needed.

What does the spacesuit protect us from?

First of all, it can eliminate the oxygen deprivation that we mentioned at the beginning for a certain period of time. Each spacesuit has two oxygen tanks that work with a carbon dioxide removal system to allow a 6 to 8.5 hour spacewalk. Afterwards, the astronaut must return to the space station in order to refill the empty oxygen tanks. Another danger is related to the temperature in space.

Is space hot or cold?

Unfortunately, the temperature in space is either too high or too low for the human body to stand. For example, ,if an astronaut would go on a spacewalk without a spacesuit when the sun is shining brightly, he or she would suddenly encounter a temperature of about 120 degrees Celsius with the effect of radiation.

Without the sun, the temperature suddenly drops to about -120 degrees Celsius. This situation happens very, very suddenly because there is no atmosphere in space. Here, the only thing that keeps the astronaut safe in these difficult conditions is again the spacesuit. Another important item on the spacesuit is the Liquid Cooling and Ventilation Garment (LCVG), which incorporates clear plastic tubing through which chilled liquid water flows for body temperature control, as well as ventilation tubes for waste gas removal. Thus, the astronaut can always work comfortably in the spacesuit.

In addition to all these, the astronaut must wear a spacesuit to be protected from pressure, radiation and meteor dust.

Is there pressure in space?

Even though we can't feel it, air is constantly pressing down on us with a tremendous force. We cannot see this force with our eyes, but we constantly experience the results of this effect, especially when driving on steep hills or getting off an airplane. This pressure created by the air and the internal pressure created by the beat of our heart is constantly in balance. As we just explained, there is no air in space. This means that there is no air pressure in space. Therefore, spacesuits are inflated with a certain amount of air, just like a balloon, to apply the necessary external pressure to the astronaut. Thus, the body fluids of astronauts can remain in liquid form during a spacewalk.

Radiation in space

There is a special layer of atmosphere in the world that protects us from the harmful rays of the sun. For this reason, the sun does not affect us that much as long as we don’t fall a sleep under it on a summer day. However, since there is no atmosphere layer in space, the sun's harmful rays, also called radiation, can cause great harm to astronauts. Space suits have layers to protect astronauts from radiation and reflect incoming rays. Also included in the spacesuit is a gold-plated visor section to protect the astronauts' eyes.

Meteor dusts that are faster than a bullet

Meteor dusts are small particles orbiting the earth. You might think; "How could a tiny dust particle hurt an astronaut?". Meteor dusts move in orbit of the Earth at a speed of approximately 24,000 km per hour. Therefore, when any small particle hits an astronaut, it can cause great damage. For this reason, there is a special protection shield in the upper part of the spacesuit and in the area called the Hard Upper Torso, which is similar to the structure of bulletproof vests. Thanks to this shield, the astronaut is protected from the vital damage that a meteor dust can cause.

What do astronauts eat and drink during a spacewalk?

Astronauts may have to take long space walks from time to time. The record belongs to two astronauts, Jim Voss and Susan Helms, who took a spacewalk for 8 hours and 56 minutes. Of course, astronauts can get hungry or thirsty during this long spacewalk. If necessary, you may think that they can go to the space station and have their food. But every minute in space is planned and very important. Taking off a spacesuit, that actually takes 15 minutes to put on with someone's help, can cost the astronaut half an hour, so the astronauts do not prefer to return to the space station and take a lunch break. NASA has found a solution to this issue as well.

Under normal circumstances, menus containing more than 1000 types of food are prepared for the International Space Station astronauts. These menus that include snacks can be consumed by astronauts at the station. There is also a high-calorie chocolate bar, fixed in a space suit helmet close to the mouth, so that astronauts can gain energy on challenging spacewalks. Especially on long spacewalks, astronauts enjoy the meal breaks where they consume these chocolates. Since they cannot use their hands, astronauts consume the chocolate bar by biting on it several times.

The next need of the astronaut consuming a high-calorie chocolate bar is of course water. At this point, a water bag located in the spacesuit helmet and a straw attached to this bag comes to aid. The tip of the straw can be opened and closed using only the mouth.

How much does a spacesuit cost?

The cost of a spacesuit is set at about $12 million. It can be said that this shield is cost-effective considering that a spacesuit is not crafted for every single astronaut and it can be used repeatedly for many years as long as there are no problems with it.

So what is the most expensive piece of a space suit?

Initially, it may look like the most expensive item on the space suit is the Primary Life Support System. This unit, which is responsible for adjusting the oxygen and the temperature levels, contains several electronic devices. However, in terms of cost, the parts that NASA spends the most are the gloves of the astronauts. Spacesuit gloves are the main limiting factor when it comes to working in space. Astronauts usually handle from 70 to 110 tools, tethers and associated equipment for a typical spacewalk. Like an inflated balloon, the fingers of the gloves resist the effort to bend them. Astronauts must fight that pressure with every movement of their hand, which is exhausting and sometimes results in injury. Furthermore, the joints of the glove are subject to wear that can lead to life-threatening leaks. For this reason, the gloves are specially designed to aid astronauts' mobility.

In a nutshell, spacesuits are basically wearable spacecrafts and can not only keep astronauts alive, but also feed them, allow them to communicate, and even be used as a toilet.

So what kind of spacesuits will we see in the coming years?

When NASA sends astronauts to explore near the Moon's South Pole as part of the "Artemis Program", the moonwalkers will wear space suits provided by Axiom Space. NASA selected the Axiom company to develop modern suits for the Artemis III mission and unveiled the first prototype on Wednesday, March 15, during an event at Space Center Houston in Texas.

"NASA's partnership with Axiom is critical to landing astronauts on the Moon. Building on NASA's years of research and expertise, Axiom's next-generation spacesuits will not only enable the first woman to walk on the Moon, but will also open opportunities for more people to explore and conduct more science on the Moon than ever before," said officials.

Artemis III will land astronauts on the Moon, including the first woman, to advance long-term lunar exploration and scientific discovery and inspire the Artemis Generation. NASA has selected Axiom Space to deliver the moonwalk system, including the spacesuit for the mission. The spacesuit, called the Axiom Extravehicular Mobility Unit, or AxEMU, is based on NASA's spacesuit prototype developments and includes cutting-edge technology, enhanced mobility and additional protection against lunar hazards.

NASA experts defined the technical and safety standards to which the spacesuits would be built, and Axiom Space agreed to meet these essential agency requirements. AxEMU has the range of motion and flexibility needed to explore more of the lunar landscape, and the suit is designed to fit a wide range of crew members, which includes at least 90 percent of the US male and female population. Axiom Space will continue to apply modern technological innovations in life support systems, pressurized suits and avionics as development continues. The company will test the suit in a space-like environment before the mission.

Following Artemis III, the agency will compete with future Artemis mission services under the Exploration Extravehicular Activity Services (xEVAS) contract. NASA is using the contract to fulfill the agency's spacewalk needs for both the Moon and the International Space Station. The agency recently issued a task order to Collins Aerospace, which is also competing under the xEVAS contract, to develop new spacesuits for astronauts to wear during spacewalks on the space station. Both firms will compete for future spacewalk and moonwalk services mission orders.

By landing the first woman and the first person of color on the Moon via Artemis, NASA will pave the way for a long-term, sustainable lunar presence to explore the lunar surface more than ever before and prepare for future Mars astronaut missions.

Would you like to be an astronaut? If you were an astronaut, what kind of spacesuit would you like to wear? You can share your comments with your friends on the following social media channels.

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