• Reading Levels 3 - 5
Science | Design & Technology


These super high-tech garments are essentially personalised, human-shaped spacecraft. They must be both comfortable enough and strong enough to protect astronauts from changes in pressure. Why do astronauts need spacesuits? There are few more hostile environments than space. Temperatures range between -100 and 120 C. Dust flies faster than bullets. The sun radiatesGives out light and heat energy. In outer space, there is no atmosphere, making the sun's radiation far stronger. unshaded through outer space. Heading out on a spacewalkA period of time spent outside a spacecraft while in space., an astronaut needs a suit that offers protection. A supply of oxygen and water is also vital. Spacesuits designed to be worn outside a spacecraft also have to be pressurisedMaintaining pressure artificially. Aeroplane cabins are pressurised while flying. to protect from the vacuumA space entirely empty of matter. of space. How were the first spacesuits designed? The first human to go into space was Yuri Gagarin in 1961. Later that year, NasaThe National Aeronautics and Space Administration, responsible for the US space programme. sent its Mercury crew into space. Suits designed for both missions were based on clothing made for fighter pilots experiencing high pressures. Each suit had interesting features. Gagarin's was fitted with mirrors on the sleeves, so he could see controls behind him while strapped into his seat. The Mercury suits were made of nylon coated with shiny aluminium to reflect the dazzling sunlight in space. Were suits different for the Moon landing? In 1969, Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong became the first humans to walk on the Moon. For this, suits had to be designed differently: they were fitted with Moon boots designed to deal with rocky surfaces. Extra layers of material made the Apollo missionThe Apollo 11 mission was run by Nasa and completed the first-ever Moon landing. suits safe for moonwalks. The suits also had life support systems built in, so that the astronauts could walk further from the Apollo capsule. What are modern suits like? Today's spacesuits are like a one-person spacecraft. Each has an outer protective layer of extra strong nylonAn artificial (or synthetic) fabric used to make clothes, ropes and brushes. and five inner layers to insulate the wearer. They are usually white to reflect sunlight, and visorsA see-through, moveable part of a helmet that can be pulled down to cover the face. are covered with a thin layer of gold, so the astronauts are not blinded. Inside, a fan moves oxygen around the suit and water flows around a system of pipes to keep the astronaut cool. The most recent suits have 3D printed helmets, and gloves optimised for touchscreen devices. Are they comfortable? Not really. Footage of the first men on the Moon is full of tripping and awkward movements. Because the suits have so many layers, moving around is difficult. Spacesuits are extremely heavy, with some weighing over 120kg. Once in outer space, though, the lack of gravity means they weigh nothing. How will future spacesuits look? Nasa has plans to send astronauts to other worlds like Mars. Unlike the Moon, Mars has its own atmosphereThe layer of gases surrounding a planet or moon, held in place by that planet's gravity. Small planets and moons have weak gravitational fields, and therefore only a very thin atmosphere. and a stronger gravitational pull. This means suits must be far lighter. They must be flexible enough for astronauts to stoop down and pick up samples and protect against radiation, high winds and extreme temperatures. Futuristic designs have suits with built-in computers and light panels that make astronauts easy to find.KeywordsRadiates - Gives out light and heat energy. In outer space, there is no atmosphere, making the sun's radiation far stronger.

Continue Reading

The Day is an independent, online, subscription-based news publication for schools, focusing on the big global issues beneath the headlines. Our dedicated newsroom writes news, features, polls, quizzes, translations… activities to bring the wider world into the classroom. Through the news we help children and teachers develop the thinking, speaking and writing skills to build a better world. Our stories are a proven cross-curricular resource published at five different reading levels for ages 5 to 19. The Day has a loyal and growing membership in over 70 countries and its effectiveness is supported by case studies and teacher endorsements.

Start your free trial Already have an account? Log in / register