Trying on an Actual Astronaut Space Suit

How does WIRED's Brent Rose feel about being the first person outside of the space program to try on a pressurized space suit? "The geekiest kid, in the nerdiest candy store in the universe!" Watch as Brent tries on and shows off the newest in space suit technologies with the help of ILC Dover, the company that makes these human-sized space ships.

Video Transcript

- Is it too late to go to the bathroom?

Way too late?

Greetings, Earthlings, I'm Brent Rose.

And today I'm the geekiest kid in the nerdiest candy store in the universe because I'm about to try on some space suits.

Somehow they're letting me be the first person outside of the space program to try these things on and pressure them up.

And I am extremely excited.

A moment I always dreamed of, space dad.

So for the past six decades, most suits worn by American astronauts, either on the spacewalk or the surface of the moon, have been made by a small company called ILC Dover.

Now, to be clear for the first Artemis missions NASA chose another company to provide the space suits, but ILC Dover is still making prototypes for future potential missions and private space flights.

And that's what we're gonna see today.

The company makes several categories of suits.

There's the LEA suits, that's Launch, Entry, and Abort, which are the softer suits that people wear when they don't have to leave the space capsule.

And then there's the EVA, or Extra Vehicular Activity suits.

These are effectively self-contained space ships with integrated life support systems that astronauts use for space walks.

ILC Dover's focus has long been on making suits for the few hundred highly trained astronauts that we've sent into the final frontier.

But now at the dawn of the age of commercial space travel, they are rethinking their designs.

So these suits will work both for our best and our brightest, but also for total space noobs like me.

I feel like I've finally achieved thick, small waste, pretty face, with a big back, right?

Just me?

Okay, fine.

- First thing we're gonna have you do, is put on some long underwear, and then over top of that you'll put on the LCG, liquid cooling garment.

- Okay.

- Then proceed with the rest of the donning of the suit.

- Okay, you don't need to see this.

I'll be right back.

Getting into these things starts pretty much the same way as getting into anything else, with the underwear.

All right, Dan, ready for phase two.

Except these Underoos pack in way more technology than your typical tighty whities.

- [Dan] Water will circulate through those tubes.

There's an inner liner here that keeps those, as you're moving, keeps those tubes from chafing against your skin.

So this is sort of a comfort liner.

- It feels almost like amphibious or something.

I mean, it already feels cool to the touch.

How do I look?

- You look great.

- Yeah?

What's going on?

- Before you get into the upper torso, just like to review real quickly some of the layers of the suit.

So the outer layer is what we call the TMG, Thermal Micrometeoroid Garment, and then there are several layers of insulation beneath that.

- Basically the idea is to keep my body heat reflecting back toward me.

- [Dan] Keep your body heat reflecting back in.

Then this is a liner layer.

- Okay.

- [Dan] Then a restraint layer.

That's a non stretch fabric.

Yeah, you cannot stretch that.

- Right.

- And then there's the bladder layer.

So this is the layer that maintains the air pressure.

So this is what keeps you alive.

That first line of defense of air pressure in space.

- Got it.

So this thing, inflates, essentially.

- Right.

- And it can only inflate as far as this restraint layer.

- Will allow it to inflate.

- Got it.

I don't normally need this much help putting on my pants, but getting into an EVA suit isn't a one person job.

These two guys from ILC Dover are helping me position things so that the joints of the suit and the joints of my body are aligned.

Otherwise I won't be able to bend or move once it's pressurized.

And speaking of, it's a pretty big deal that they actually agreed to pressure up the suit with me in it.

I had to pass an FAA flight physical for it.

But pressure is critically important, because while you can survive around three minutes without air, you can only survive up to a minute without air pressure.

Thank you.

Thank you.

Oh yeah, there we go.

It's heavy, but obviously it wouldn't be so heavy on the moon.

Actually, pretty mobile.

[exhales] Oh god, here we go.

It's like being born all over again.

Push, mom.

Thank you.

If this seems clunky to you, I would encourage you to go back and look at some footage from the Apollo missions.

Those suits had fewer points of articulation and they couldn't move naturally at all.

This new suit might not be silk pajamas, but it's vastly more flexible, even when it's pressured up, which we're about to do in three, two.

Hopefully my head doesn't explode.

Here we go.

Woo!

This is such a thrill.

[air pressure hissing] - [Technician] He's got it up to pressure already.

- Oh wow.

It feels so different when pressurized.

Before there's enough soft stuff that things bend kind of everywhere.

So it was just like a heavy suit.

And now it's like things will really only bend at the points of articulation.

I can still do all the things, but I can now tell that it only moves in certain specific ways.

And I feel a little bit more mechanical, like a Chuck E. Cheese animatronic.

It's like, you know.

And now it's time for some highly scientific tests.

- I actually can turtle just a little bit.

If I get scared or shy I can just kind of.

It's good to have options.

It's not actually my first time playing with at least some components of a space suit.

Back in 2016, I got to go to the Johnson Space Center and do a bit of astronaut testing.

And I was able to try the previous generation of space gloves in a vacuum box.

I remember very clearly how stiff and unwieldy those felt when pressurized.

I was able to manipulate objects, but only with maximum effort.

By comparison, just from feeling the gloves before, these bent way better than last ones do.

All right, I'll take that.

Dude.

Yeah!

This is pretty damn amazing.

So throughout human history so far, EVAs and moonwalks have been limited to very highly trained astronauts, but I can see a day where, in the future, this kind of thing actually feels really approachable.

Like, I mean, I'm in here zero training whatsoever.

I'm actually able to move okay.

Like, obviously, they're not letting me walk, but I feel like I could walk if they would let me.

And it's not just the gloves that have evolved.

The shoulders now move more like your actual shoulders do.

Before, if an astronaut fell down, they'd probably need a hand getting back up, even in lunar gravity.

But now the upper torso is flexible enough that they can do pushups in it, which we made Jim do.

I believe in you.

Remember your training.

This is Jim, by the way, ILC Dover's insurance wouldn't let me take their very expensive space suit off the donning stand.

But Jim has been well trained, so we were free to ask him to do just about anything.

Jim, I didn't know you had moves like this.

Is it hot, Jim?

Is that why you're dropping it like that?

- Yes.

- [Brent] There's a lot more freedom from the waist down too.

Do you remember how astronauts had to awkwardly skip and hop across the surface of the moon?

With this suit they'll be able to walk more or less normally.

ILC Dover, NASA, and various aspiring space hotels, will all have to make sure these suits are as idiot- proof and intuitive as possible.

They'll mean the difference between life and, well, Schwarzenegger toward the end of "Total Recall."

[Quaid screaming] Despite what some billionaires may promise, it's unlikely that civilians will be going on space walks, let alone moonwalks anytime soon.

[upbeat electronic music] Until that day comes, space tourists will be wearing the next generation of Launch, Entry and Abort suits, which you might think of as fancy jumpsuits which can be pressurized to save your life but only in an emergency.

These have evolved too.

- The most iconic of the launch-entry suits are the bright orange suits.

NASA called them ACES, a lot of people call 'em pumpkin suits, the suits that were worn for launch and reentry in the space shuttle era.

So that was kind of our baseline of we needed to improve on that.

- Right.

- This is much lower mass than that much lighter weight.

And it's much more comfortable.

If you remember back to those bright orange suits, they had a big neck ring.

- A big globe, like it's fishbowl of a helmet.

- Yeah, and the ring that it attaches is a big heavy piece of metal.

So this is an all soft design.

The only hard part is the bubble itself.

- I see.

- This uses an airtight zipper.

So when they don't need the helmet, say they're walking out to the spacecraft, it flips back just like a hoodie.

- A space hoodie.

- A space hoodie.

Wanna try on the com helmet?

- Yeah, let's try on the com helmet.

So, let's see.

Oh yeah, wow, it's like some serious sound canceling.

The dual mics, is that for like Hi-Fi stereo, or is this like just a redundancy thing?

- It's a redundancy thing.

- Okay.

- So in case one of the mic fails.

- Got it.

I do slobber when I sing, so.

- Try not to S slob on those mics.

- Well, you don't want to hear me sing in space either.

I have to say it's like, it's a very sleek looking suit.

It looks sort of svelte, if I may say.

It's super impressive.

Now, unfortunately, tragically even, they didn't have an LEA suit in my size to try on.

And, man, I tried.

But I did get a glimpse in how these prototypes are made.

Let's start with the sewing room.

- Right now we're in our prototype sewing room in our Houston facility.

This is where we sew up prototypes of future generation space suits.

- I mean, that looks very ordinary.

I was definitely expecting something a little bit more high-tech looking, some sort of, you know, futuristic sewing machine.

This looks about as a brutalist as you can get, right?

- Well, the interesting thing about space suits is they aren't made in high volume.

There haven't been that many people that have taken space walks.

- Right.

- [Dan] Haven't been that many total astronauts.

- [Brent] Right, I mean, it looks like it could be from, like, the 1960s almost.

- Well, and I think some of these machines probably go back to.

- Wow.

- Our legacy of the Apollo era.

- Right, just don't build 'em like they used to.

- Right.

[light electronic music] Right now we're in the machine shop of our prototyping facility.

So this is where we make the hard metal and plastic components that go into a space suit.

And we have various pieces of equipment here that you might find in any machine shop.

- Again, I'm like kind of struck by the not spaciness of it.

You know, it's like this is something that, like, your kind of gearhead uncle might have.

- [Dan] Exactly.

- So this non-spacey sewing room and your uncle's garage is where they're putting together the suit that's gonna take normies like me to space?

Can that be right?

Are they really ready for someone like Justin Timberlake to don an EVA suit on the surface of the moon?

With the advance of more commercial space flight happening now, how do you ensure their safety when these are not trained pilots?

When these are, you know, the rankest of rank amateurs?

- Right.

- People like me.

- A lot of it is procedural.

When you're talking about the suit itself, the disconnects or things that would be, you know, life critical, have some type of a secondary on them.

So you can't just take off a glove without multiple motions.

- [Brent] Got it.

The equivalent of like a child lock on the rear seats.

- Yes, yes, has to be very deliberate.

- Yeah.

Good.

- We do have touchscreen compatible gloves now.

A big driver for the commercial market.

People need to be able to take their selfies and as well- - Right swipe and left swipe in space.

[Greg laughs] Yeah.

As these suits become more and more commercially available, your spouse or niece or nephew or kid, they were going to go into space would you be like, "Yeah, all right, I trust this thing with their lives?"

- Having four aspiring astronaut children, I have no doubt that I would love to see them in my suit in space.

Add it up - Let's hit the highs and lows.

Lows, last minute panic thoughts about bathroom when you've already got a very heavy space suit on.

Another low, being mounted to the wall like taxidermy is a little bit demoralizing and somewhat humiliating, even though I understood that it was for my own safety's sake, and so I didn't damage what is essentially a spacecraft.

Well, we've already got civilians flying in LEA suits and they'll continue to do so.

It's gonna be a long time before we get average people in a suit like this walking on the surface of the moon or the surface of Mars.

The suit might be ready pretty soon, but the space industry just isn't there yet.

And even if it was, you wouldn't be able to afford it.

Trust me.

Highs, space suits have evolved so much.

This EVA suit has so many more points of articulation and is so much more flexible, that even a rank amateur such of myself was able to move around with relative ease.

And that really bodes well for the future of space travel.

And one final high, this was just a thrill of a lifetime.

10-year-old Brent used to dream of putting on a space suit and floating around in space.

And yeah, I wasn't in zero-G today, but feeling those those joints articulate around my body and feeling that cooling water circulate and keeping me from overheating, it was just so unbelievably thrilling.

I could not pry the grin off my face with a crowbar.

Yeah.

Yeah.

He's staying alive in that suit.

[upbeat electronic music] Add it up