NASA Celebrates 50 Years of Space Suits

NASA Celebrates 50 Years of Space Suits


I have been flying for a dozen years now starting
with the U-2’s and the US Air Force and then came over to NASA to fly the ER-2. We
fly the ER-2 and the U-2 for that matter so high that we are above Armstrong’s line
which is roughly sixty-four thousand feet, but if for some reason we lost that pressurization,
lets say the canopy blew off, and we were exposed to the atmosphere at that altitude,
our blood would start to boil, our bodily fluids would all start to boil, the saliva
in our mouths would start to sizzle and boil off and we would not last very long if that
happened. And what the pressure suit is there for, is to catch our bodies at roughly thirty-five
thousand feet so if we lose all of the pressure in the aircraft, the suit would actually expand
like a balloon and become almost ridged and we would be inside it at the equivalent of
thirty-five thousand feet altitude. It is pretty stiff, I mean just the act of reaching
down to grab the flight controls, or to move the throttle takes a lot of effort cause there’s
a lot of force against the suit. There is a lot of maintenance into it. It’s
a life support equipment. Everything is preflighted. We check the oxygen. We check the pressure.
We check the regulator. We check the leak rate in the suit. Then after we put the pilot
in the suit, we go through the same procedures and check all of those parameters again. The
philosophy is everything else can fail, this can’t. The suit is made to give us just
enough mobility in the cockpit to come back down from altitude to more normal pressures
and a safer zone to come back and land. I have been fortunate. I have not had a loss
in cabin pressure. I have friends that have and the suit saved their lives. The techs
that day that suited them up saved their lives. I think everybody has a little bit of claustrophobia.
It is usually when it is hot outside and I have just climbed in the aircraft and I am
out-breathing the capability of the little portable oxygen units we have. And I find
myself feeling like I’m suffocating. I have about 10 seconds every year where if I wanna
scream and get the helmet off and the suit off as quickly as I can. But I know how to
power through that. We can drink in flight, and we all take water
and I take food. Not everyone takes food up, but I do. I take a lot of food with me. We
connect the food to a food tube or to a water bottle, put the tube through the hole and
that points right at our mouth inside the helmet. Keep in mind, when we are flying,
this helmet is closed up like that and remains closed so we can’t open it up to eat a chocolate
bar or whatever so everything pretty much has to be pureed or liquid. Getting used to flying in a space suit with
the helmet on took months. Dexterity of boxing gloves and a helmet where you can’t scratch
your face, you are sweating, it is hot. I can’t move at all in the cockpit. I have
no room to move very much at all. My knees are hitting the instrument panel, my helmet
is hitting the canopy, my arms are hitting the sides of the cockpit. I love flying this plane! Sometimes I inflate
the suit and just sit there. I’ll sit there for hours if everything is moving smoothly
and just scan the mission.

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