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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