Spacesuits, Ranked

Spacesuits, Ranked
NASA Space Shuttle astronauts wearing their iconic orange suits while preparing for the STS-124 mission in 2008. (Photo: NASA)

We present to you eight distinctive spacesuits, ranked from our least to most favourite.

As of July 20, 2021, a total of 574 people have flown to space, whether they be trips to low Earth orbit, the Moon, or quick suborbital jaunts above the Kármán line. Every astronaut has donned an outfit of some kind, but until recently, these spacesuits were meant to keep astronauts alive in the event of a fire, unexpected depressurisation, or some other calamity. But now, with the introduction of space tourism, these suits are changing, and not necessarily for the better. Here are eight different spacesuits, ranked from worst to best in terms of looks.

8. Blue Origin’s suborbital suit

Wally Funk, with arms outstretched, and other members of the Blue Origin NS-17 crew, July 2021.  (Photo: Blue Origin)Wally Funk, with arms outstretched, and other members of the Blue Origin NS-17 crew, July 2021. (Photo: Blue Origin)

The Blue Origin spacesuit is unquestionably awful. In addition to having the silliest looking rocket, the Jeff Bezos-led company also boasts the most embarrassing space outfit. Looking like a deflated parachute, the suit is unflattering, unsophisticated, and unbecoming of what a spacesuit is actually supposed to look like. Prior to his historic 10-minute flight to suborbital space, Bezos himself was clearly not big on the flight gear, as his personal tailor had to be flown to Texas to make his crotchal area look just right.

7. NASA’s xEMU Moon suit

Kristine Davis, a spacesuit engineer at NASA's Johnson Space Centre, wearing a prototype of the space agency's Artemis-era xEMU.  (Photo: NASA/Joel Kowsky)Kristine Davis, a spacesuit engineer at NASA’s Johnson Space Centre, wearing a prototype of the space agency’s Artemis-era xEMU. (Photo: NASA/Joel Kowsky)

So, technically speaking, this NASA spacesuit doesn’t actually exist, or at least not yet, and thank goodness for that. Can’t say I’m thrilled with this clumsy, jumbled look. The suit shown here at a 2019 NASA event is a ground prototype of the space agency’s xEMU (Exploration Extravehicular Mobility Unit) Moon suit, which is still under development and behind schedule. The final version will likely look very different (fingers crossed), but this fashion faux pas aside, xEMU promises to be a truly amazing suit for exploring the lunar surface.

6. The Space Shuttle suit

NASA Space Shuttle stronauts Lisa M. Nowak , Michael E. Fossum and Piers J. Sellers during training for STS-121.  (Photo: NASA)NASA Space Shuttle Astronauts Lisa M. Nowak , Michael E. Fossum and Piers J. Sellers during training for STS-121. (Photo: NASA)

Space Shuttle astronauts will always be remembered for their bright and bulky orange Advanced Crew Escape Suit, or ACES, which went into service in 1994 and replaced the similar-looking Launch Entry Suit (LES). These suits were designed to help astronauts survive some of the most extreme conditions, so some fashion awkwardness couldn’t be prevented, like the oversized shin pockets. Still, the outfit doesn’t look too, too bad, but they were affectionately referred to as “pumpkin suits.” The full-pressure outfits featured built-in parachutes, life preservers, and even survival drinking packets.

5. Virgin Galactic’s suborbital suit

The Virgin Galactic suit looks sleek, but a bit contrived.  (Photo: Virgin Galactic)The Virgin Galactic suit looks sleek, but a bit contrived. (Photo: Virgin Galactic)

Not to be confused with the cast of a Babylon 5 reboot, this is Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson and his team showing off the company’s suborbital space suit. These suits are worn during 90-minute flights to suborbital space inside the pressurised SpaceShipTwo spaceplane. The UA|VG suit, as it’s called, features a proprietary material that forms to the shape of a person’s body, while still allowing for flexibility. The “atmospheric light blue elements and pops of gold throughout” were “inspired by an image of the sun in space, casting its rays on Earth,” according to Under Armour, which designed the outfit. The UA|VG suit certainly looks the part, but I’d argue that it looks a bit too much like a sci-fi trope of a spacesuit.

4. The Russian Sokol spacesuit

From left to right: ESA astronaut Paolo Nespoli, Sergei Ryazansky of Roscosmos, and NASA's Randy Bresnik in their Sokol suits. (Photo: ESA)From left to right: ESA astronaut Paolo Nespoli, Sergei Ryazansky of Roscosmos, and NASA’s Randy Bresnik in their Sokol suits. (Photo: ESA)

Several versions of the Russian Sokol spacesuit have appeared since it debuted in 1973, but the suit — still worn today — has managed to stay clean, simple, and sharp. This is the suit that’s worn inside the Soyuz spacecraft, and it’s meant to keep astronauts alive in the event of accidental depressurisation, among other mishaps. NASA’s ACES suit would be the U.S. equivalent. The current version of the suit is called Sokol-KV2, which has been in service since the 1980s. It’s a classic case of not fixing what ain’t broke.

3. The SpaceX spacesuit

Members of NASA's Crew-3 expedition donning their SpaceX spacesuits.  (Photo: SpaceX)Members of NASA’s Crew-3 expedition donning their SpaceX spacesuits. (Photo: SpaceX)

I must admit, I am a fan of the form-fitting SpaceX spacesuit, which the Elon Musk-led company introduced in 2020. The no-frills pressure suit almost looks too casual to be real, but it’s designed to protect astronauts from fire or depressurisation during flights inside the company’s Crew Dragon spacecraft. The simplified look is made possible by the capsule’s seat, which attaches to the suit with an umbilical. The seat does the heavy lifting, providing electronics for communications, air to cool the suit, and gas during depressurisation.

2. The Apollo Moon Suit

Spacesuits, Ranked

The Extravehicular Mobility Units worn by Apollo astronauts while walking on the Moon are without parallel. The oversized helmet and mirrored face shield are as iconic as it gets. The Portable Life Support System, or backpack, finishes the classic look. Sure, Apollo astronauts had difficulty walking and moving in these outfits, but the Moon suit got the job done, allowing Neil Armstrong to make that giant leap for mankind.

1. NASA’s Mercury spacesuits

NASA's first astronaut class, the Mercury 7, had the best spacesuits. This photo was taken on April 9, 1959.  (Photo: NASA)NASA’s first astronaut class, the Mercury 7, had the best spacesuits. This photo was taken on April 9, 1959. (Photo: NASA)

A no-brainer choice — this is exactly what a spacesuit is supposed to look like. The Mark IV suits were actually borrowed from U.S. Navy pilots, who wore the outfits during high-altitude flights. NASA made some adjustments to the pressure suit, such as adding the aluminium-coated nylon outer shell for improved thermal control, special gloves to allow for finer finger control, and new straps and zippers to ensure a tighter fit. The suit was worn throughout the Mercury era and was later replaced by the Gemini suit in the mid-1960s. To infinity and beyond!