The commercial spaceflight industry is doing a great job creating new rockets, launch vehicles and all that good stuff, but spacesuits have seen few alterations. Until now. Boeing has publicly debuted what astronauts on its Starliner craft will be wearing, and it looks like a big improvement.
Chris Ferguson, former astronaut and now leader of Boeing’s Starliner Crew and Mission Systems, showed off the suit for the cameras yesterday.
This one isn’t for doing spacewalks, but rather for getting the astronaut from the staging area of the launch to the relative safety of the space station, and vice versa. It still needs to be airtight and resistant to extreme temperatures and other “extremis” situations — just not to hard vacuum and cosmic radiation. But there was definitely room to improve on the bright orange Advanced Crew Escape Suits made by NASA since the 1990s.
“We’ve simplified the suit,” Ferguson said in a Boeing video. “Astronauts formerly had these relatively bulky heavy suits with thick neck rings, and we learned throughout the years maybe we didn’t need that.”
The “Boeing Blue” suits weigh 12 pounds to the ACES’ 30, and are more compact while still building in plenty of functionality. They’re cooler inside, more flexible, have comms built into the helmet and lack the big metal neck ring — instead, the helmet attaches with a zipper and hangs back like a hood when not in use.
The shoes, designed by Reebok, are more like giant soft runners than boots, and the gloves come with that all-important 21st-century feature: they’re touchscreen-friendly.
Boeing plans to send its first commercial crew up on the Starliner CST-100 launch vehicle in 2018, and they’ll be wearing these suits.
Now the question is, will SpaceX leapfrog Boeing with an even cooler suit? Chances are we’ll find out soon — they can’t afford to let Boeing hog the spotlight for too long.