Spacesuits Old and New

Part of the Beyond Planet Earth: The Future of Space Exploration exhibition.

Why Wear Spacesuits? Without air, you die--and not just for the obvious reasons. Yes, you need air to breathe. But air also provides pressure. You may not feel it, but the atmospheric pressure on Earth is around 14.7 pounds per square inch at sea level--roughly one kilogram pressing on every cubic centimeter of your skin. You can't live without this pressure. But on Mars, there's barely any air, and the pressure is less than 1% of Earth's. If you were exposed to this near-vacuum for a few minutes, you would die--unless you wore a pressure suit.


Current spacesuits keep astronauts surrounded by a sack of pressurized air wherever they go, making it difficult to move around. The suits are also bulky and heavy, so it's hard for astronauts to move their fingers and limbs.

Mars - Apollo Spacesuit


Newer pressure suits that are lighter and more maneuverable will wrap astronauts with stretchy fabric that will be custom-fitted using a laser scanner. Instead of pressurized air, this suit uses a tight fabric made of spandex, nylon and a new, patented polymer to maintain pressure even when torn.

Mars - Mars Suit
Inventor, Science and Engineering: Professor Dava Newman, MIT (Cambridge, MA); BioSuit Design: Guillermo Trotti, A.I.A., Trotti and Associates, Inc. (Cambridge, MA); Helmet Design: Michal Kracik, Trotti and Associates, Inc. (Cambridge, MA); Fabrication: Dianese (Vicenza, Italy).  Photographer: Douglas Sonders