Although the SpaceX Dragon spacecraft was unmanned during its recent first flight to the International Space Station, the success of that mission nonetheless marked a huge step toward future crewed commercial space flights. SpaceX, of course, isn’t the only player in this newly-forming industry – companies such as Virgin Galactic, Boeing, and Blue Origin are also hoping to take paying customers on rocket rides. However, while a lot of attention has been paid to the spacecraft themselves, one has to wonder what those private-sector astronauts will be wearing. Expensive NASA space suits, perhaps? Not if Ted Southern and Nikolay Moiseev have anything to say about it.
Southern and Moiseev are the brains behind Final Frontier Design, a Brooklyn-based company that is designing a safe, functional and affordable pressurized space suit. Unlike some of NASA’s suits, which are designed with extra-vehicular activities such as space walks in mind, their suit is intended only for Intra Vehicular Activity. This means that it would be worn within the spacecraft during launch and reentry, as a safety backup in case of loss of cabin pressure.
Moiseev has worked as a space suit engineer for over 20 years, developing suits for groups such as NASA, the European Space Agency and the Russian Space Agency. Southern’s background lies in the area of special effects and costumes for theater, movies and television. Together, they designed a glove for use in outer space, which placed second in the 2009 NASA Astronaut Glove Challenge. They went on to work as technical residents at New York’s Eyebeam art and technology center, and were awarded a NASA contract last year, to continue development of their pressurized glove.
While much of that was going on, they were also designing their own space suit. The first version was completed in 2010, with the Second Generation model appearing in late 2011. They are now working on the Third Generation (3G) suit, which they hope to have ready for NASA flight certification later this year.
Like the 2G suit, the 3G is intended to be lightweight and easy to manufacture, while still providing safety and functionality. Both versions include traditional space suit features, such as an oxygen inlet, communications cap and connector, a pressure relief valve and regulator, and a visored helmet. Some of the improvements being incorporated into the latest model include a carbon fiber waist ring, higher operating pressure, the ability to retract the helmet, and better gloves and glove disconnects. It is intended to sell for “a small fraction” of the price of current NASA suits, which can reach into the millions of dollars.
Southern and Moiseev have turned to Kickstarter to raise funds for this latest step in their project. Different pledge amounts will get backers different parts of the suit to call their own, when and if the funding goal is met – US$100 will get them a Valsalva Device, used for plugging the nostrils in order to clear the ears, while a complete suit can be had for $10,000 or more.
Final Frontier Design crests can also be acquired for ten bucks.