On Earth, clothes make the man—and woman. In space, they’re the key to survival. Whether helping astronauts enter Earth orbit, walk on the moon, pilot a space shuttle, or travel to Mars, space suits must serve several vital functions: provide oxygen, control temperature, permit movement, power communications, and protect against solar radiation.
But fashion is fickle, and technology grows apace. Space historian Roger Launius says the first suits were based on what jet pilots wore. Over time they’ve evolved into autonomous modules that help astronauts negotiate the inky expanse, gather samples, and work on the International Space Station.
Yet in some ways they’ve hardly changed. Now as then, a space suit is essentially a gas-filled, human-shaped covering. (Exceptions include the form-fitting suits Dava Newman is developing at MIT and the high-mobility models Pablo de León is designing at the University of North Dakota.)