The commercial spaceflight industry is doing a great job creating new rockets, launch vehicles, and all that good stuff, but spacesuits are still largely stuck in the past. Boeing has publicly debuted what astronauts on its Starliner craft will be wearing, and it looks like a big improvement.
Chris Ferguson, former astronaut and now leader of Boeingâs Starliner Crew and Mission Systems, showed off the suit for the cameras yesterday.
This one isnât for doing spacewalks, but rather for getting the astronaut from the staging area of the launch to the relative safety of the space station, and vice versa. It still needs to be airtight and resistant to extreme temperatures and other âextremisâ situations â just not to hard vacuum and cosmic radiation. But there was definitely room to improve on the bright orange Advanced Crew Escape Suits made by NASA since the â90s.
âWeâve simplified the suit,â Ferguson said in a Boeing video. âAstronauts formerly had these relatively bulky heavy suits with thick neck rings, and we learned throughout the years maybe we didnât need that.â
The âBoeing Blueâ suits weigh 12 pounds to the ACESâ 30, and are more compact while still building in plenty of functionality. Theyâre cooler inside, more flexible, have comms built into the helmet, and lack the big metal neck ring â instead, the helmet attaches with a zipper and hangs back like a hood when not in use.
The shoes, designed by Reebok, are more like giant soft runners than boots, and the gloves come with that all-important 21st-century feature: theyâre touchscreen-friendly.
Boeing plans to send its first commercial crew up on the Starliner CST-100 launch vehicle in 2018, and theyâll be wearing these suits.
Now the question is, will SpaceX leapfrog Boeing with an even cooler suit? Chances are weâll find out soon â they canât afford to let Boeing hog the spotlight for too long.