Spacesuit, designed by Wernher von Braun, illustrated by Fred Freeman, and uploaded by Paleofuture from the book First Men to the Moon

Illustration from 'First Men to the Moon' by Wernher von Braun

53 years ago, Wernher von Braun wrote a work of fiction called “First Men to the Moon”.  In it, he described the training and equipment the main character John Mason goes though – and while many have written fiction on space exploration before and after, few can claim quite the expertise as von Braun – as he went on to be instrumental in building the Saturn V, and getting the United States to the moon.

The book came with amazing illustrations such as the one above, which Paleo-Future blog has been good enough to scan from this very out of print book.  (There’s one more, and larger versions, at Paleo-Future).  The diagrams, by Fred Freeman, speak of spacesuits of flexibility; tightly wrapped around wiry, dynamic astronauts – but those aren’t the boxy, bulky, almost comical suits that we’ve all seen.  But fashion always comes around again, and maybe technology is catching up on Mr Freeman…

Over at MIT for the last several years, Professor Dava Newman and her team have been working on a different kind of spacesuit that seems far more genetically related to the images from First Men to the Moon, than conventional suits.  The Biosuit (from the Man Vehicle Lab in MIT) is a very literally skin tight suit that uses tension lines to apply opposing pressure to the body in carefully studied contours where the least amount of movement occurs.  The idea sounds somewhat analogous to being tied up with string, or covered in sellotape in the most covering, but least restrictive way possible!

What it means, however, is that, along with the frankly amazing work going on in spacesuit glove development, future space suits may look more ‘old fashioned’ than ever – as long as old fashioned means sleek, flexible, physically enabling and downright cool.

Lastly, as a pair of relatively irrelevant asides; the experimental space ship in one of the most influential of sci-fi horror PC games; System Shock 2, was called the Von Braun, and I very much want to make a spacesuit costume for Halloween.