Virgin Galactic unveils "spacewear" for commercial astronauts
Virgin Galactic has unveiled its new line of "spacewear" to be worn by the company's first commercial astronauts and passengers. The result of a 10-month collaboration with Under Armour (UA), the astro-clothing consists of a high-tech base layer, flight suit, footwear, training suit, and a limited edition jacket. They were revealed at a New York catwalk event led by Virgin Galactic founder Sir Richard Branson sporting the outfit he will wear for the company's inaugural commercial spaceflight.
Based on input from doctors, astronaut trainers, pilots, apparel and footwear designers, engineers, and Virgin Galactic's "Future Astronaut" customers, the new spacewear is a balance between the practical, the aesthetic, and the marketable. Though Virgin Galactic has referred to the wardrobe as a "spacesuit," it is, in fact, a flight suit without any ability to protect the wearer against the vacuum of space.
The base layer, which is essentially an undergarment, is designed to not only provide a comfortable fit but also better performance and blood flow in both high-g and zero-g conditions when the wearer is pressed against the acceleration couch or restraining harness. It's made out of UA's new Intelliknit fabric that manages both moisture and temperature.
The "spacesuit" is the flight suit proper that boasts a deep-blue motif with gold accents inspired by sunbeams in space and a column of symbols along the spine representing the evolution from birds to Virgin Galactic's VSS Unity spaceplane. It's made out of Tencel Luxe, SpinIt, and Nomex for temperature and moisture control, so it remains cool and fast-drying over a range of conditions.
The suit also includes UA Clone, which is a proprietary auxetic fabric that is designed to react to stretching in such a way as to fit the exact shape of the wearer's body in key areas like the elbows and knees. In addition, the shoulders and neck will be cushioned to protect against g forces.
The suit also has multiple pockets for personal items and one dedicated to holding a radio unit connected to a button incorporated into the sleeve, allowing the wearer to communicate with the flight crew.
Topping this off is a jacket that the passenger can keep after the flight that includes a clear pocket over the heart that holds a photo of one of the wearer's loved ones, a removable uniform patch, and their national flag.
As for the feet, UA has come up with a lightweight boot based on racing driver footwear. Like the suit, it uses UA Clone for a better fit and UA HOVR cushioning foam in the sole. There's also a sockliner that reads "We Stand on the Shoulders of Giants," derived from the famous quote by Sir Isaac Newton.
"Spacesuits are a part of the iconography of the first space age; our visual impressions of human spaceflight and what astronauts wear are inextricably linked," says Sir Richard. "Requirements for astronaut spacewear as we enter the second space age are evolving, but the design challenge has not diminished. We were delighted when Kevin and Under Armour stepped up to this task and they have surpassed our expectations. I love the way the spacewear looks and I love the way it feels. I also love the fact that the next time I put it on, I will be on my way to space."
Sources: Virgin Galactic, Under Armour
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As for the cost, exploring the unknown is what makes us human. Every human alive and all of their descendants will see, in some measure, the positive effects that flow from this work. The idea that it should not be done because there are "better uses for the money" makes no more sense in the context of space exploration than it did in the context of exploring the globe, developing steam power, electric lighting, telephony, or the transistor or GPS. These all started out as technologies funded by Kings or Governments or the rich which would, at their genesis, yield benefits predominantly for the relatively wealthy. They went on to uplift every human on earth.
Then there is Elon Musk's point that we are, as a species, only one extinction even away from oblivion and the only way to change that is to leave the planet.