Smithsonian's Spacesuits: Number One On The Runway

Illustration for article titled Smithsonians Spacesuits: Number One On The Runway

The iconic NASA spacesuit didn't show up in astronauts' closets fully formed. Here, a small sampling of the many precursors held with reverence at the Smithsonian Museum.

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Above, left to right:
Mark IV, B.F. Goodrich; Mark II – Model "O", B.F. Goodrich, 1956; Mark V – Modified, B.F. Goodrich, 1968; Mark II – Model "R", B.F. Goodrich, 1956

The spacesuits worn by the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo astronauts are among the most asked for, and asked about artifacts in the Smithsonian national collection. It is true that explorers of remote, inaccessible, and environmentally inhospitable regions of Earth (notably of the Arctic and Antarctic regions), and test pilots since the 1930s, have required specially designed clothing of various sorts. It is a testament to the extraordinary cultural significance of spaceflight, however, that spacesuits attract far more attention than the parkas, snow shoes, flight jackets, and even pressure-suits and "crash helmets" of Earth-and-air-bound explorers.

The popularity and interest in spacesuits, of course, reflects the extraordinary cultural status of spaceflight. While human spaceflight in the United States began as a direct extension of test-flying experimental, high-performance aircraft for the military, and owes much to the precedent and traditions of Arctic and Antarctic exploration, the placing of humans into orbit, and especially the act of walking about upon the surface of the moon during the 1960s and 1970s, has had direct and symbolic meaning to the American public that is hard to overestimate.

– Allan Needell, PhD National Air and Space Museum

Illustration for article titled Smithsonians Spacesuits: Number One On The Runway
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Mercury Helmets, left to right: A4-H – Universal Hamilton Standard, 1964; Spd-143-1a Ax1-L Apollo Prototype, ILC Industries, 1963; GT-7 – Gemini Protective Helmet. 1965; Mercury – Training, Schirra, 1960

Illustration for article titled Smithsonians Spacesuits: Number One On The Runway

Left: A5-L – Apollo Prototype, ILC Industries, 1965; Right: A4-H – Apollo Developmental ILC for Hamilton Standard, 1964

Illustration for article titled Smithsonians Spacesuits: Number One On The Runway
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Radiograph Image of A4-H "Universal" Helmet, Hamilton Standard, 1964 Ron Cunningham and Mark Avino

Illustration for article titled Smithsonians Spacesuits: Number One On The Runway
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EX1-A – Mobility Demonstrations, AiResearch Corporation, 1969, Courtesy of NASA

Illustration for article titled Smithsonians Spacesuits: Number One On The Runway
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Astronaut Ed White During First U.S. Spacewalk, Gemini 4 1965, Courtesy of NASA

All images and captions from "Spacesuits: The Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum Collection" by Amanda Young and Mark Avino, published by powerHouse Books. Available from Amazon or direct from powerHouse.

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DISCUSSION

As someone who lives in a town where almost all the schools and many public buildings are named after astronauts and rocket scientists, I agree that the meaning cannot be overestimated.

The image of that flag, on that suit, either on the moon or with the earth in the background moves me to a national pride which is often lacking.

Even if I were to meet the president in person, it wouldn't move me to tears. But the image, of a man in space. An American man in space. Call it hubris, call it fanaticism, call it whatever you like, but the only other thing that's touched me that deeply was the birth of my daughter.