Here’s every major spacesuit worn by NASA astronauts since the 1960s — and the new moon suit he just unveiled

BI Graphics_Evolution of American Space Suits_2x1

NASA astronauts have donned many different spacesuits over the decades.Dragan Radovanovic/Business Insider

  • NASA unveiled the suit that astronauts will wear during the 2025 Artemis III lunar mission.

  • The Extravehicular Mobility Unit’s new space suit was developed by the private company Axiom Space.

  • NASA gave astronauts their first operational spacesuits in the early 1960s.

Space may be the final frontier, but it’s utterly inaccessible and downright deadly to any brave human being without a great spacesuit.

Astronauts are scheduled to return to the moon in 2025 for the first time in 50 years with NASA’s Artemis III mission. The space agency has just unveiled a new fit for the occasion, developed by private company Axiom Space.

NASA commissioned Axiom to build their latest spacesuits in June 2022, after spending years and millions developing their own. In August 2021, the agency reported that despite spending $420 million since 2017, its own suits wouldn’t be ready for space until April 2025 “at the earliest.”

Axiom’s new Extravehicular Mobility Unit uses NASA’s own exploration version, which was introduced in 2019.

But the very first operational space suits were introduced in the early 1960s to protect high-flying astronauts risking their lives in the name of space exploration.

From the silver suits of the Mercury program to Elon Musk’s sleek Crew Dragon suits, this is how astronaut spacesuits have evolved over six decades.

Mercury Suit (1961-1963)

Mercury 1961 1963 Nasa space suit Business Insider

Jenny Cheng/Business Insider

Project Mercury marked the first time US citizens ventured into orbit around the Earth.

To protect the first astronauts from sudden depressurization, NASA modified pressure suits for US Navy high-altitude aircraft. Each space suit had a layer of neoprene-coated nylon on the inside and aluminized nylon on the outside (to keep the suit’s internal temperature as stable as possible).

Six astronauts flew into space in the suit before NASA retired it.

Gemini Suit (1965-1966)

gemini flight suit 1965 1966 nasa space suit business insider

Jenny Cheng/Business Insider

Gemini was NASA’s second space program – and one with more ambitious goals. The Gemini capsule carried a crew of two astronauts into space and had an (uncomfortable) mission that lasted two weeks.

The David Clark Company designed Gemini suits to be flexible under pressure and took additional steps to make them more comfortable than Mercury suits. For example, they could be hooked up to a portable air conditioner to keep the astronauts cool until they could hook up to the spacecraft’s plumbing. These suits weighed 16-34 pounds.

Gemini Spacewalk Suit (1965-1966)

gemini spacewalk suit 1965 1966 nasa space suit business insider

Jenny Cheng/Business Insider

A type of Gemini suit called the G4C was developed with NASA’s first spacewalks in mind. Astronauts opened the hatch during these ventures, leaving the safety of their craft to work in the vacuum of space.

To withstand the harsh space environment, the suit connected the astronauts to the spacecraft via a hose, which supplied them with oxygen. However, in case there was a problem, some variants of the suit offered up to 30 minutes of backup life support. The heaviest variant weighed about 34 pounds.

Apollo Spacewalk Suit (1967-1975)

Apollo moon spacewalk 1967 1975 Nasa space suit Business Insider

Jenny Cheng/Business Insider

The Apollo program took astronauts to the moon, and it wasn’t a walk in the park. The astronauts required more protection than the Gemini or Mercury suits could provide.

The first humans to set foot on the moon needed a shield against fine regolith (dust as sharp as glass); Protection from sharp temperature changes from sun to shade; the flexibility to install equipment and pick up moon rock; and the ability to stay away from a spaceship for hours.

The suit came with a dozen layers of fabric, thick boots, and a robust life support system. Each weighed more than 180 pounds on Earth, but only a sixth as much in the Moon’s weaker gravitational field.

First Space Shuttle flight suit (1981)

first space shuttle flight suit 1981 nasa space suit business insider

Jenny Cheng/Business Insider

A mission called STS-1 – short for Space Transportation System-1 – was the first orbital space flight of NASA’s Space Shuttle program.

Columbia, the first 100-ton orbiter, launched a crew of two astronauts and orbited the Earth 37 times before re-entering the atmosphere and sliding back to a runway. Astronauts did not venture outside, so they wore only an emergency ejection escape suit, which (like the Mercury suit) was a modified version of a US Air Force high-altitude suit.

Extravehicular Mobility Unit (since 1979)

Extravehicular mobility unit emu spacewalk 1981 present iss nasa space suit business insider

Jenny Cheng/Business Insider

Astronauts of the space shuttle era regularly worked in space servicing satellites as well as constructing and maintaining the International Space Station (ISS).

They needed a workhorse spacewalk suit for such tasks, so NASA created the Extravehicular Mobility Unit. This 14-layer pressure suit could withstand the harsh emptiness of space and keep astronauts alive for more than eight hours. Fully loaded with gear and supplies, it could weigh nearly 320 pounds on Earth.

NASA was also testing a jetpack-like device for the EMU, called a Manned Maneuvering Unit, which would allow astronauts to fly around freely and unattached. People aboard the ISS are now using an advanced version of EMUs to maintain the space station.

Space Shuttle Flight Suit (1988-2011)

Space Shuttle orange flight suit 1988 2011 NASA space suit Business Insider

Jenny Cheng/Business Insider

The suit worn by astronauts during the space shuttle program is sometimes called the “pumpkin suit” because of its bright orange color. The suit features gloves for separating wrist locking rings, liquid cooling, improved ventilation and additional layers of insulation.

Sokol Launch and Entry Suit (existing)

sokol present iss soyuz russia nasa space suit business insider

Jenny Cheng/Business Insider

The sharp, blue-lined spacesuit you see many astronauts wearing today is actually a Russian suit called the Sokol, or “Falcon” spacesuit.

The 22-pound suit is quite similar to the Space Shuttle flight suit, although it’s used to protect people flying in Russia’s Soyuz spacecraft.

SpaceX Crew Dragon Flight Suit (2020–present)

crew dragon est 2018 2019 nasa space suit business insider

Jenny Cheng/Business Insider

The sleek white space suits were designed by Elon Musk’s company SpaceX. Musk introduced them during a press conference in 2017, and NASA astronauts Bob Nehnken and Doug Hurley first used them when they flew into space in a SpaceX capsule on the Crew Dragon mission in May 2020.

Jose Fernandez, a Hollywood costume designer who has worked on films such as X-Men: Dark Phoenix, Aquaman, and Thor: Ragnarok, came up with the design. The suits, while sleek and futuristic, were only made for the Crew Dragon capsule and are not suitable for a spacewalk.

Crew Dragons are used to transport NASA astronauts to and from the International Space Station and for commercial flights.

Boeing CST-100 Starliner flight suit (2022–present)

cst 100 starliner est 2018 2019 nasa space suit business insider

Jenny Cheng/Business Insider

First expected in 2019, Boeing unveiled its light blue Starliner flight suit in June 2022. It is designed for use in the CST-100 Starliner capsules, which are expected to launch their first crew immediately.

The suit includes a helmet attached with a thick, airtight zipper (no heavy or bulky neck ring required).

Axiom Extravehicular Mobility Unit Suit (2023)

AxEMY Next Generation space suit from Axiom Space.

AxEMY Next Generation space suit from Axiom Space.Manny Jawa/ Axiom Space

The suits of the Axiom Extravehicular Mobility Unit, or AxEMUs, will be delivered to NASA by the summer. Launched in March 2023, the dark gray and orange version is a prototype and the final version will be white.

Astronauts must wear white on the moon to reflect heat and protect against high temperatures.

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