Before man could walk on the moon, he needed something to wear
50 years ago, Neil Armstrong and Edwin ‘Buzz’ Aldrin became the first humans to walk on the moon, while Michael Collins kept their return flight in orbit. The Apollo 11 mission brought us, humanity, someplace we had never been before — to a beyond of scientific, physical, intellectual and even spiritual significance. This epic event offered, and continues to shape, the kind of perspective that influences all posterity. The dress code for such a momentous lunar occasion: survival. “One small step for man” was made in one giant puffy suit.
In honor of the Apollo 11 anniversary, we’re celebrating the scientist, inventors, designers, visionaries and courageous explorers who helped bring humanity to new heights, and depths, in extreme environments. To those who’ve stepped into the unknown on land, in space and under the sea — we salute you. We also salute the creators and the gear that got you there.
Though similar in silhouette, space suits and dive suits are designed to withstand drastically different conditions. Years of research, innovation and rigorous testing by courageous individuals push the materials forward and make the impossible possible. We explore some highlights in the evolution of atmospheric diving and space suits below.
ATMOSPHERIC DIVING SUITS
1882 — Carmagnolle
The first properly anthropomorphic design. Sadly it never worked properly. Diver was able to see through 25 small portholes on helmet. Multiplying the surfaces while reducing their size reduced the risks of cracks due to the pressure. The joints were inspired by medieval armor.
1907 — Iron Man
Diver O.E. Gandy set a new diving record of 230 feet. The suit consisted of thick iron, the strength of a locomotive boiler. It was built to withstand the pressure of the water by its own strength, instead of relying on pumps.
1930 — Tritonia
Jim Jarret wore the Tritonia suit to dive down and explore the wreck of the Lusitania. The suit kept divers dry and at atmospheric pressure, even at great depth.
1971 – JIM Suit
In 1979, oceanographer Dr. Sylvia Earle set a human depth record of 1,250 feet in a JIM suit. The occupant does not need to decompress when returning to the surface.
1997 — ADS 2000
The ADS 2000 was developed jointly with OceanWorks International and the US Navy for the Navy’s Submarine Rescue Program. Chief Navy Diver Daniel Jackson set a new record when he submerged to 2,000 feet in 2006.
2014 — Exosuit
The Exosuit is designed to allow the diver to remain underwater for a very long time, rather than to dive incredibly deep. Instead of ending in gloves like spacesuits, the Exosuit uses an artificial hand called the Prehensor. Letting users retain 90 to 95% of their usual dexterity.
1959 — Mercury Suit
Worn by John Glenn during his 1962 Mercury mission, the first U.S. orbital space flight. The Mercury spacesuit was a custom-fitted, modified version the high altitude pressure suits worn by military pilots. The suit was not designed to operate in the vacuum of space, but rather to help the astronauts in the case of an emergency.
1969 — Apollo Suit
Worn by Neil Armstrong & Buzz Aldrin during in 1969 Apollo Mission. Custom made for each astronaut, the suits were based on 47 measurements and tested repeatedly. The complexity of the suit ensured it could support human life in the harshest of environments: extreme heat & cold, radiation, micrometeorites & the threat of cuts from sharp rocks all had to be taken into consideration.
1994 — Pumpkin Suit
After the Challenger space shuttle orbiter exploded after launch in 1986, killing all seven astronauts on board, safety became paramount. The suit came with a survival backpack loaded with parachutes, flotation devices, drinking water and even emergency oxygen supplies.
Sources: NASA, OceanWorks International, US Navy, The Brooklyn Eagle, The Washington Post