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Frontiers Special Report 2017 January

FRONTIERS 2017 | 5 Flexible shoulders Communications headset Soft suit Photo: NASA played a key role in evaluating the Starliner spacesuit, which is essential for the trip to and from low-Earth orbit destinations. Chris Ferguson, center, flew to space three times. Eric Boe, left, and Sunita “Suni” Williams, right, are two of four astronauts training for commercial crew test flights to the International Space Station. astronauts against cabin decompression during launch, return to Earth as well as a toxic-environment situation such as a fire, Ferguson said. The spacesuit is an evolution of what was once worn by U-2 aircraft pilots and Gemini astronauts in the 1950s and ’60s. It was designed to be lightweight and to have low bulk for storage, a low thermal burden and a minimal amount of hardware, Diaz said. The soft helmet, a type of helmet also used by the Gemini program, resembles a hooded garment. A polycarbonate visor features various coatings to protect against glare and scratches and to provide an anti-fog surface. When the visor lifts up, a crew member breathes cabin air while a supply source pumps air into the body of the suit for cooling; flip the visor down and turn a valve, and the breathing air gets redirected through the suit to the person’s head. The visor, the only part of the helmet that provides a hard Starliner more streamlined throughout to improve mission efficiency, and the spacesuit was not exempt from this request, Diaz said. “Our marching orders were to reduce the weight and the bulk,” he said. To shed pounds, Starliner astronauts will wear a soft helmet rather than a hard one and don protective leggings, which direct blood flow to the heart, rather than rely on inflatable pressure bladders sewn into the spacesuit fabric. “The legacy ‘bubble’ helmets connected to a rigid neck ring. Now, the bulky neck and wrist joints are conspicuously absent,” Ferguson said. “It’s a lot simpler.” The David Clark Co. of Worcester, Mass., manufactured the Starliner suit, using input from a Boeing team that consisted of Ferguson, Diaz and others. Clark also has provided spacesuits for NASA and high-altitude pressure suits to the U.S. Air Force. The Boeing spacesuit’s primary function is to protect the Starliner (Continued on Page 6)


Frontiers Special Report 2017 January
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