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New SpaceX spacesuits get five-star rating from NASA astronauts

The movie-star look to SpaceX's new spacesuits is just one of the innovative features the Crew Dragon astronauts enjoyed during the Demo-2 test flight to the International Space Station.

NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken were the first humans to wear the suits in space during their mission, which began May 30 with a flawless launch from Florida — the first human spaceflight from the region since the space shuttle program ended in 2011.

How things have changed since then. Instead of the old-school "pumpkin suit" launch suits Behnken and Hurley wore multiple times for space shuttle missions, this time the veteran astronauts were decked in all-white SpaceX suits for their rocket ride to orbit.

Related: From Apollo to Mars: The evolution of spacesuits

NASA astronauts Doug Hurley (foreground) and Bob Behnken give a thumbs up from inside the Crew Dragon capsule ahead of the Demo-2 launch on May 30, 2020. (Image credit: SpaceX/Twitter)

"I bet you we've donned and offed those suits a couple hundred times," Hurley said during a press conference June 1 from on board the space station. The SpaceX spacesuits were custom-made for the astronauts and thus used extensively during training for the Demo-2 mission

Because the spacesuits were fitted to the astronauts' individual body types, Hurley added, "they were actually much easier to get in and out of in zero G," or weightlessness, compared to the pumpkin suits, which were also called the Advanced Crew Escape Suit (ACES). ACES and the SpaceX spacesuits are not designed for spacewalks — just for backup during launches and landings.

"We'd have to get the suits a five-star rating," Behnken added during the discussion about the SpaceX suits. He pointed to some of the primary functions of the spacesuit, which is to protect the astronauts in case of fire or depressurization aboard SpaceX's Crew Dragon spacecraft

"These suits didn't have to do that job for us, which was nice. But it was clear that they were ready," he said.

Astronauts Doug Hurley (left) and Bob Behnken in their SpaceX spacesuits at Launch Pad 39A with their Falcon 9 rocket and Crew Dragon spacecraft in the background before launch. The SpaceX pressure suits are designed to keep astronauts safe in the spacecraft and not for spacewalks. (Image credit: Kim Shiflett/NASA)

Both astronauts thanked the ground crews for their work in developing the spacesuits, which was done to very closely tune the spacesuits to the functionality of Crew Dragon. The gloves were designed to work with the spacecraft touchscreens, and the spacesuits were made to plug into seat umbilicals carrying oxygen and cool air from the spacecraft. 

"One of the things that was important in the development of the suit was to make it easy to use, something that the crew just literally has to plug in when they sit down, and the suit takes care of things from there," said Chris Trigg, SpaceX's spacesuits and crew equipment manager, in a May 27 video SpaceX posted to Twitter.

The spacesuit has been tested in space before, just to make sure it was ready for humans. A version flew on the Tesla-driving dummy SpaceX launched towards Mars orbit in 2018, and another spacesuit decked thee dummy Ripley that flew aboard the uncrewed SpaceX Crew Dragon Demo-1 test flight to the space station in 2019.

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Elizabeth Howell
Elizabeth Howell

Elizabeth Howell, Ph.D., is a contributing writer for Space.com since 2012. As a proud Trekkie and Canadian, she tackles topics like spaceflight, diversity, science fiction, astronomy and gaming to help others explore the universe. Elizabeth's on-site reporting includes two human spaceflight launches from Kazakhstan, and embedded reporting from a simulated Mars mission in Utah. She holds a Ph.D. and M.Sc. in Space Studies from the University of North Dakota, and a Bachelor of Journalism from Canada's Carleton University. Her latest book, NASA Leadership Moments, is co-written with astronaut Dave Williams. Elizabeth first got interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, and still wants to be an astronaut someday.