At the end of July, MAKS 2021 Air Show demonstrated the design of a new Russian emergency escape suit, Sokol-M. They are expected to be used by astronauts who will fly to the Moon on the manned spacecraft Orel – the manned flight is planned for 2025. To find out how space suits evolved, what astronauts wear on the ISS and in the outer space, and what promising projects the industry has to offer, read the article by Scientific Russia.
In the Beginning Was Water
The Russian word for spacesuit (“skafandr”) is composed of the Greek words – “boat” and “man.” The word was introduced into modern usage by French abbot and mathematician La Chapelle in 1775, he named a cork suit that helped soldiers cross rivers with this word.
People learned to work effectively enough underwater in the early 19th century – the first suit for comfortable work under water was made in 1819. It is believed that the development author was an English designer, Augustus Siebe. The suit looked like a helmet with a porthole, hermetically connected to a waterproof jacket. Air was fed into the helmet through a hose, and the used air vented out from under the shirt. Later the shirt was replaced by a hermetically sealed suit.
High Altitude Aviation
With the development of aviation, it became necessary to create completely new suits. Without additional equipment, the pilots began to have problems at an altitude of four and a half kilometers. For some time, oxygen masks helped go a little higher, but at the altitude of 10-15 km the oxygen supply was insufficient. It became necessary to create the suits that would provide a pressure at which the body could function normally.
Since the 1930s the development of high-altitude suits in the Soviet Union was carried out by a group of engineers under the leadership of Yevgeny Chertovsky. He developed 7 modifications of high-altitude suits and solved the problem of their mobility. The first suits for high-altitude pilots inflated so much that it was difficult even to bend the arm. The hinge system increased mobility, and in 1936 the Ch-3 suit model had almost all elements of modern space suits, including thermal underwear.
The glass showcase of the Museum of Cosmonautics contains an orange jumpsuit with a transparent helmet – SK-1, Yuri Gagarin's spacesuit. It was made on the basis of high-altitude Vorkuta suit, which was designed for pilots of fighter-interceptor Su-9. The only thing totally redesigned for the space was the helmet. For example, it had a special system, which automatically slammed the visor in case of pressure drop.
Space suits are divided into emergency rescue suits, outer space suits, and suits designed to access the surface of celestial bodies. Yuri Gagarin's spacesuit was an emergency rescue one. After flying on the first Vostok spacecrafts, the Soviet cosmonauts flew without protection, so there was more space on the spacecraft for the payload. In 1971, a tragedy struck: cosmonauts Georgy Dobrovolsky, Vladislav Volkov, and Viktor Patsayev died because of depressurization. The designers had to urgently develop spacesuits for space flights. Eventually a Sokol-K suit was developed, and since 1973 Russian cosmonauts have been sent to space stations wearing its various modifications, and it was another Sokol that was presented at MAKS 2021.
Russian cosmonauts use different modifications of the Orlan suits to go outside the ISS. It is interesting that all the inscriptions on the spacesuit controls are made in mirror image. There is a mirror on each arm of the suit, and a cosmonaut turns on and off certain suit functions by looking at the reflection.
Engineers around the world continue to work on new models of spacesuits that could become more comfortable or more autonomous. One promising development is compression suit. The fabric directly adheres to the body and creates the pressure necessary for breathing. Among existing problems: such suits take quite a long time to put on and take off, and besides, it is not yet possible to get rid of the bruises and pain caused by such a tight suit.
Entering the spacesuits from the back, like in the Russian Orlans, makes it possible to increase space in the rover due to of the spacesuit’s external storage in the future. Space suits are suggested to be put on immediately inside the vehicle and return back to it the same way.
The SpaceX spacecraft successfully landed on Earth a little over a year ago. The spacesuits of the astronauts who went to the ISS on the commercial spacecraft are different from most of those used now and those used 10 years ago on the last independent U.S. mission to the ISS. The white astronaut suits receive oxygen and information through a port that is connected to the seat. The helmets are 3D-printed and the gloves allow astronauts to use touch screens. However, the suits are only designed to be used in the Crew Dragon capsule.
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