Spacesuit secrets


Ainissa Ramirez is a scientist, author, and a self-proclaimed science evangelist.

She is the creator of a podcast series called Science Underground.

She joins me now to discuss the secret behind space suits.

Yeah. Space suits.

I never really thought about the fact that space suits are almost like space shuttles, so to speak, for one, right?

It's your entire environment inside.

You know, there's -- there isn't any air, there isn't any heat -- you're going to have to bring it with you.

So, the suit itself actually helps you do that.

So, there's many different layers.

Here's like a segment of a space suit.

Starts off with a shell.

This shell is actually pretty tough.

Uh, the reason why it has to be tough is that there's small micro-meteoroids flying in the air and this --

All the time.

All the time in space.

Not on Earth, in space.

And this stops them from puncturing the suit.

So, you need the shell.

That's very important.

After that, you're going to have to have some insulation.

So, this is just a reflective layer, which sends your heat back to you.

UH, there's a couple of those just to keep you warm.

This is just a liner.

There's a structure that provides strength, because, otherwise, this thing'll just flop around like a wet towel, so you need something to support it.

And then, because engineers always like to use words that are technical, this is the bladder.

And all that is doing, is that's actually holding the air that you're going to breathe.

Now, the air that we breathe is -- is nitrogen and oxygen at a high pressure.

Uh, in space, it's only oxygen, and it's at a very low pressure.

And the reason why they do that, is if it was at the pressure that we're accustomed to, well, this thing would expand, and you'd look like a baby in a snow suit.

Oh, boy.

So, you want to keep it very low, so that you can move around.

Now, underneath that is a gauze suit, which looks like a jumper, and it has hose going through it, and that's the cooling system.

Just like your -- your air conditioner has a cooling system, you have your own cooling system so you can be comfortable in space.

And then, that's about it.

Or so they say.

There's actually one more layer.

Can I share that with you?



Oh, the reveal!

That looks like a diaper.

It is an adult diaper, yeah.

It's called a Maximum Absorbancy Garment, the MAG.

[ Laughter ] It's just a male way to say 'diaper.'

Say 'diaper.'

Well, yeah, if you're out on a space walk, you can't really just come on back in.

That's right.

You can't have a time-out.

'Hey, I got to go in.'

You know, you're out there for six hours, so you have to have one of those things.

So, that's the space suit secret.

So, do we learn something from all the stuff, all the technology that we've put into designing this space suit?

Has it made a better diaper here on Earth, or has it made, you know, for example, better, tougher shells that we might see in a jacket one day?

Well, a lot of things that have happened in NASA have translated to -- to us, I mean, just to have materials that can survive very tough environments.

Before we used to have just wool and natural textiles, like copper -- like, cotton.

But this is, uh, you know, a synthetic, so this is very tough.

This insulation reflective layer is also a technology that we use a lot, as well.

I have a hat that has this kind of thermal layer, so we borrow a lot from space science to our everyday clothing, as well.

And it seems that they've gotten more svelte over time.

You know, the pictures you see of the guys hoping around on the Moonscape versus what you see today, they just seem a little leaner, and they're probably more comfortable than what those guys had to do in the --

Right, and also how they're fitted.

They used to be clamped together.

Now, they've got different ways of attaching it.

Yeah, there are people working on the space suit, trying to get it to be more nimble.

Before, they would just make it for guys.

There are women that are going to go in space.

They have to have a different shape, a different size.

So, there's a lot of technology in -- in fitting these things.

That's one of the things that we don't really see, uh, accurately on the space-related shows.

What we see, is a very nice, sort of svelte outfit.

And if it had to have all those layers in it to protect you, uh, as you were walking around on Mars, you'd probably need something a little thicker.

That's right, that's right.

And we definitely don't talk about the secret.

[ Laughter ]

The secret.

The secret diaper layer.

Uh, when they're out there, when you're talking about these micro-meteoriods, the -- the space station is orbiting at a certain speed, right?

The other thing is that there's a lot of space junk and debris out there that's floating around, but it's also floating at such a speed that it's not like, uh, in that movie 'Gravity,' or whatever it was, where Sandra Bullock can kind of see it coming over the horizon.

Right, right.

It'd be on you, it'd be over.

It'd be instantaneous, right?

Right, right.

Uh, well, as for the micro-meteoroids, we don't experience them on Earth, because they're actually burning up as they hit and come into our atmosphere.

Uh, but this is strong enough for those small -- they're less than the size of a pebble.

But for space junk, I mean, that's -- that's a serious problem right now, because it can hit parts of the ship, it can hit an astronaut when he or she is out in space, so that's something that people are mitigating, as well.

I don't have the solution to that.

Do they think about that before they go out there?

Yeah, they definitely think about that.

Are we in a particular angle where there -- where there's a debris field that we're going through, and you can't do the walk now?


Space junk is a huge problem for -- for NASA.

All right, so, hopefully, this space technology will get to our clothes soon enough.

Thank you very much, Ainissa Ramirez, for joining us.

Thank you. Thanks.