Behold, the Innards of a Spacesuit

By Megan Garber
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The torso of a U.S. spacesuit, x-rayed (Mark Avino and Roland H. Cunningham, Smithsonian Institution)

Ever wondered what the inside of a spacesuit looks like? Neither had I, really. Last week, however, the world had reason to consider the inner workings of the garment that my new favorite site on all the Internet refers to as the "space costume." A suit malfunction occurred nearly two hours into a planned six-hour space walk, causing NASA first to abruptly abort the walk and second to begin examining what might have caused a space suit -- a high-tech spaceship for one -- to spring a leak. 

Agency engineers aren't yet sure what caused Luca Parmitano's suit to become, suddenly, unsuitable. But Chris Cassidy, Parmitano's crewmate on the International Space Station and his partner on the aborted walk, decided to take advantage of all the scrutiny to give the world a teachable moment. In the pair of videos below, Cassidy gives a guided tour of the innards of a spacesuit, highlighting the points at which something might have malfunctioned. 

He continues the tour here:

But what about the backpack of the suit, you ask? What does that look like? It's even more complicated, unsurprisingly. Here, for comparison, is part of the life support system contained within the rear of a Russian Orlan-M spacesuit:

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NASA

And here, for even more comparison, is an x-ray of the suit Alan Shepard wore for his walk on the moon in 1971. It gives a good sense of the complexity that was literally woven into even the earliest of spacesuits. 

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An x-ray of Alan Shepard's Apollo 14 spacesuit (National Air and Space Museum/Smithsonian)

And here's a similar shot of a helmet from a 1964-model suit: 

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A helmet from a 1964 suit, x-rayed (Mark Avino and Roland H. Cunningham, Smithsonian Institution)

And here -- um, to boot -- is a similar x-ray, this one of the overshoe model that was worn by astronauts in the Apollo program.

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A boot from a U.S. space suit, x-rayed (Mark Avino and Roland H. Cunningham, Smithsonian Institution)

If the hard treads on the overshoe's sole look familiar, it's because they were also imprinted on the moon.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2013/07/behold-the-innards-of-a-spacesuit/278251/