From the Back of the Vault: Testing Space Suits for NASA

The suits used by NASA astronauts in space missions undergo strenuous testing on Earth before they ever make it into outer space.  While in space, astronauts conduct experiments, make repairs, and do other types of space-related work wearing one of two types of spacesuits.  Intra-Vehicular Activity (IVA) suits are worn for, as the name implies, work inside the spaceship.  Extra-Vehicular Activity (EVA) Suits are worn for work outside the spaceship.

EVA suits in particular have much more design-related research and development in them, as astronauts have engaged in a variety of activities in space and encountered many dangers.  EVA suits have to protect wearers from space debris, depressurization, and temperature extremes. At the same time, astronauts require the mobility to grasp objects, climb, walk, and bend so as to be able to perform their tasks outside of the ship.

This video [EVA Suit/Glove Development Video Conference, April 7, 1986] was given to our department several years ago by an unidentified donor.  It is a film of a 1986 teleconference between NASA officials (most likely in Washington, D.C.) and other participants taking part via telephone during a video uplink between what appears to be three different locations.  A panel of five participants is in a studio in Washington, while two others take part remotely via telephone connection.  As they view films of EVA suit and glove testing spanning several years, they comment on the design merits of the suits and add invaluable historical background information.

To view a short video segment, click on an image.

EVA suit test ca. 1967

EVA suit test ca. 1967. Still image from the film.

NASA panel, April 7, 1986

NASA panel, April 7, 1986. Still image from the film.

Though the main tone of the meeting in the recording is one of seriousness, as it is a discussion between NASA engineers regarding very expensive life-saving technologies, the video contains a few humorous sections.  In a 1968 test a subject performs calisthenics and plays football while wearing an EVA suit.  He is assisted by three men in dress shirts, ties, and glasses.  As the two telephone participants keep the discussion businesslike, members of the studio group periodically chuckle at the sight of the space-suited man running around a football field with hoses and wires attached to him.  One even jokes that “the (Washington) Redskins could use him” after he catches a pass while weighted down by a space suit and tethered to a NASA vehicle parked on the field.

NASA EVA suit tester does toe touches on the gridiron

NASA EVA suit tester does toe touches on the gridiron. Still image from the film.

As an historical document, the 57-minute film provides rich background in the mechanics and history of testing space suits from the Apollo program in the late 1960s up to the Space Shuttle program in the mid 1970s.  It details the types of testing EVA suits and gloves underwent during this period.  The scenes portray NASA as a thorough and thoughtful organization in terms of determining the effectiveness of the equipment that went into outer space.  The running dialogue between the engineers adds detail, context, and sometimes humor to the original film clips.

A subject dons a "hard suit" during a test

A subject dons a "hard suit" during a test. Still image from the film.

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