Boeing Unveils Lighter, Snazzy Spacesuit for Space Taxi Astronauts

Aerospace company Boeing hopes to begin ferrying astronauts to the International Space Station in 2018, but NASA's bulky spacesuits are not part of the plan.

Astronauts flying to and from the International Space Station aboard Boeing's commercial space taxi will be outfitted in a sleek new royal blue spacesuit, complete with a zip-on helmet and gloves that can be used on touchscreens.

The pressurized spacesuits, unveiled on Wednesday, weigh about 20 pounds, compared to the 30-pound suits worn by space shuttle crews.

"Astronauts formally had these relatively bulky, heavy suits with thick neck rings and we've learned throughout the years that we didn't need that," Chris Ferguson, director of crew and mission systems for Boeing, said in a Boeing video to introduce the new suits.

Ferguson has first-hand experience with the old suits. Before joining Boeing, Ferguson was a NASA astronaut who flew on the space shuttle three times. He was the commander for the final shuttle flight in July 2011.

"We've simplified the suit," Ferguson said.

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Gone is the thick neck ring that connected a protective helmet to the shuttle's bright orange, pressurized flight suits.

The new "Boeing Blue" suits are still airtight, but softer and with an integrated helmet that is attached by a zipper.

The new suits also are much cooler - "You can lay there without any external cooling," Ferguson said - and much less cumbersome.

Boeing expects to begin ferrying crews to the space station by late 2018 aboard its CST-100 Starliner capsules, launched aboard United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rockets.

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Since the shuttles were retired, NASA has been dependent on Russia for rides to the station, which flies about 250 miles above Earth.

NASA also is buying crew ferry flights from SpaceX, which is developing a passenger version of its Dragon capsule. SpaceX has not yet unveiled its spacesuit design.

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