Saturday, April 24, 2010

What to Wear Out (of This World).

Well, hello there Mr. Cute Astronaut. Is that a onesie you are wearing?

Been to Google today? Then, you know today is no ordinary Saturday. It's a certain space telescope's B-day. Not quite old enough to get drunk legally, but well into it's smoking and porn days, The Hubble Telescope is a marvel of twenty year old modern technology. What makes it special? Um, well, besides for the fact that it's a giant telescope orbiting in the great ethereal unknown whilst sending us supersonic visual imagery of the heavens, it is the first of its kind that was built to be serviced by human missions. Other space scopes before it were simply one-shot deals. They were sent up and then out, but not Hubble. Hubble gets visits from astronauts for maintenance and repairs. Of course, this got me thinking about what the astronauts wear (are you surprised?) when they head out to service the shuttle. We've all seen the hulking suits and the bulbous headgear, but what's in a shuttle fixer's wardrobe when they're just loungin'?

That's his multi-functioning leisure suit.

Astronauts have to choose their clothing many months in advance. In fact, most of their stuff is custom made. They have uniforms and official space clothes embroidered with their mission's logo. In an effort to keep things corporate casual, the clothing is standard issue. No 2-Pac t-shirts make it to the moon, although some pre-approved personal t-s (like the 'naut's Auburn shirt in the picture below) are allowed on official missions.

See the velcro strips? See 'em?

In order to compensate for the lack of gravity on board, everyday space wear has useful flare. It's striped with strips of velcro and many pockets for stashing stuff that if not properly anchored or stowed, would wind up floating away and getting caught in the shuttle's air filtration screen. You don't want too much of that happening.

Rockin' the LES.

During take off and landing the crew wears orange jumpsuits known as Launch and Entry Suits (LES if you're nasty). Unlike the kind of orange jumpsuits we are used to here on solid ground, they would never hand these things out to prisoners. The jumpsuits are pimped. They have a special capacity to withstand wonky air pressure circumstances in the case of air leaks and malfunctions. They also come equipped with "an emergency oxygen system; parachute harness; parachute pack with automatic opener, pilot chute, drogue chute and main canopy; a life raft; two liters of emergency drinking water; flotation devices; and survival vest pockets containing a radio/beacon, signal mirror, shroud cutter, pen gun flare kit, sea dye marker, smoke flare and beacon. " And that's just what the NASA site tells you they have. I'm sure there are some top-secret accessories that can't be discussed.

Cool, but not loungewear.

The time inbetween launch and entry is spent working and exercising and eating. Even though there's no gravity to hold sweat and spaghetti sauce in place, the stuff still gets caught up in the clothing. But, without a washing machine astronauts have had to improvise laundry techniques if they want to re-wear their duds and keep their friends. How do they do it? Here, watch space Commander Ken Bowersox suds up his shorts without gravity. He also makes a few sexist jokes while he's at it, but that's besides the point.

Space travelers also have special socks that they wear for ten days at a time. Apparently it's too expensive to bring excess clothing into the upper reaches of the universe. Unlike smoke detectors and cordless drills, ten day socks are a space invention that can stay there.

NASA fashion: "Designed for comfort and utility, and are made of flame-retardant fabrics."

Those blue suits, however? Those can come home to mama. I need a place to velcro my keys to. Thanks, Space! Now sing the birthday song for Hubble.

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