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How spacesuits work

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How spacesuits work

Astronauts would never leave home without one, and neither will you if you want to live on the moon or Mars. Here's what you need to know about the most versatile spacesuit, the extravehicular mobility unit (EMU). So pay attention. It may save your life in space. 
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Spacesuit technology has changed significantly since the early Apollo missions to the moon. Back then, astronauts had to wear the protective clothing whether they were in a spacecraft or out walking on the moon.
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Today, astronauts on the International Space Station can wear comfortable slacks and t-shirts onboard. But they have to don an EMU when they go on an EVA, or extravehicular activity. That's a spacewalk to you and me. An EMU suit even has special engines at the back so an astronaut fly back to the ISS if she should float away. 


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European Space Agency astronauts, such as Germany's Alexander Gerst, use three types of spacesuit — two from Russia and one from the US. This is Gerst's dressing room.

They use a Russian Orlan spacesuit during underwater training for spacewalks, a Sokol for flying in a Soyuz rocket, and the American EMU, which was developed for the Space Shuttle era.
 





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This is Gerst in a Russian Sokol spacesuit. It's worn by astronauts on the Soyuz rocket that takes them to the ISS.

Looks happy, doesn't he?

Yep. But he really should get into that EMU if he wants to go on a spacewalk to fix things outside the ISS, like damage caused by space debris.

So scroll on to see how the ISS commander and his crew don their suits.
     
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The EMU spacesuit has 18 separate elements. Here are some of the most important — like the helmet, hard upper torso, displays and control module, and the primary life-support system. 

But we'll start with...

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It takes about 15 minutes for astronauts to get into an EMU. But before they do that there's a lot they have to prepare. One of the most important things is their adjusting to the spacesuit's breathing system and atmosphere. 

Because the spacesuit's pressure is less than what it is on Earth (and inside the ISS), astronauts need special gear that supplies them with 100 percent oxygen. But if they just jumped into the spacesuit, the pressure change could cause "the bends," a decompression illness. So they spend time "pre-breathing."

Once that's done they can slip on a maximum absorption garment, or MAG. It's an adult sized diaper.
 
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An EMU spacesuit is close to a one-person spacecraft. It has 14 layers of protection and a raft of equipment to provide astronauts with pressure, thermal, and micrometeoroid protection, oxygen, cooling and drinking water, waste collection — including a system to remove harmful carbon dioxide — electrical power and communications.

Most of the inner layers make up a liquid cooling and ventilation garment. The LCVG (as it is also known) draws persperation from the suit and recycles it in the water cooling system.

The spacesuit allows astronauts to work for up to 7 hours on a spacewalk. It protects them against all the radiation and cold in the vacuum of space, with the outer layers featuring a blend of Gortex, Kevlar and Nomex materials.
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In a moment it'll be time for the astronauts to don their legs — the lower torso. But there are a few more preparatory tasks they need to complete first.

First an antifog compound is rubbed into the inside of the helmet. Then they insert a food bar and a water-filled "In-Suit Drink Bag" into the HUT — the hard upper torso. And the Communications Carrier Assembly — or Snoopy Cap — is connected to an electrical harness.

When all that's done (plus a few other things), the astronaut can pull on her suit pants. They feature the pants (trousers) with boots, and joints at the hip, knees and ankles, and a metal contraption to lock the lower torso in place with the hard upper torso. The lower torso also has a large bearing that gives astronauts the ability to move at the waist.  

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The hard upper torso is the main element into which all the other bits lock.

Such as the display and control module.
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And the primary life support system (PLSS). It contains enough oxygen for 7 hours, as well as batteries, radio and cooling water.
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Close
Watch this video. Italian astronaut Luca Parmitano, shows you how it's done.
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Once the upper and lower elements of the suit are on, they are sealed and locked into place, and a few connections have to be made.

First, the cooling water tubing and ventilation ducting of the LCVG are connected to the primary life support system (PLSS).

Then biomedical monitoring sensors are connected to the PLSS via an electrical harness.

And both systems are switched on.

The final things to be donned are the "snoopy cap" for communications, the helmet and lights, and gloves — once they're on, the suit is sealed and its inner atmosphere comes to life.

The astronaut — locked in armor — is now pretty much good to go.   


  
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On April 17, 2018, Alexander Gerst gave his final interviews before launching his Horizons mission to the International Space Station. 

DW asked Gerst what it's like to wear an EMU spacesuit and what it feels like on a spacewalk, knowing that you could float away at anytime. 

"It's an amazing experience," said Gerst.

Well, he would, wouldn't he?


Author: Zulfikar Abbany

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