Elon Musk Reveals SpaceX Spacesuit Design After Years of Promises

Musk, the founder and CEO of the company, posted a photo of the suit on Instagram and promised more in the days to come.

CEO Elon Musk posted a picture on Instagram today showing an artist's impression of a white-suited astronaut seatbelted into a spacecraft, next to a window showing stars. Musk promised more information in the days to come, adding that the suit "actually works" and has been tested to double pressure.

"Was incredibly hard to balance esthetics and function. Easy to do either separately," Musk added.

SpaceX has been working on the spacesuit project for several years, and this isn't the first time Musk has promised a quick update. In July 2013, a tweet from Musk said the suit would be revealed "by year end."

After a couple of years of silence, Musk made another promise on Reddit in 2015, saying the spacesuit design "is finally coming together and will also be unveiled later this year." A further tease came in Vogue magazine that fall, when Musk was pictured wearing a prototype spacesuit helmet.

Then more than a year ago, spacesuit pictures emerged on Reddit that were purportedly from SpaceX — although some commentators doubted that they were actually from the company. For what it's worth, the new spacesuit design does bear some similarities to these old pictures.

While SpaceX hasn't said much about its spacesuit program, SpaceX engineer Molly McCormick spoke about design challenges in a 2011 interview before she joined the company. Among the difficulties is developing a design that protects against radiation while providing flexibility, especially in the fingers.

Under NASA's Commercial Crew Program, SpaceX is converting the Dragon spacecraft, which currently carries cargo to and from the International Space Station every few months, to a vehicle than can transport humans. The other provider is Boeing, which is creating a CST-100 spacecraft. Boeing's spacesuit design, revealed in January, was done in partnership with the David Clark Company.

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Commercial space flights are expected to start in 2018 or 2019. Currently, the United States uses Russian Soyuz spacecraft to ferry astronauts to the International Space Station, which costs tens of millions of dollars per astronaut seat.

On the space shuttle — NASA's last vehicle — astronauts wore an Advanced Crew Escape Suit (ACES) that provided full pressure if the spacecraft used oxygen. For spacewalks, today's NASA astronauts use Extravehicular Mobility Units originally used during the space shuttle program. The Russians have their own spacesuits for entry, landing, and spacewalks.

There have been many innovations in spacesuit design since the 1980s and 1990s, such as a prototype idea from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology that is more like a "skinsuit" than a spacesuit. NASA is also working on its own advanced spacesuit design for the Orion program, which will take astronauts to deep-space destinations beyond Earth orbit. The Orion spacesuit, which is a modified version of ACES, went through a chamber pressure test earlier this summer.

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