Museum of Science and Industry Chicago (MSI) Opens Suited for Space

. April 12, 2011 . 0 Comments

Exhibit showcases the amazing engineering and science behind the spacesuit through photographs and X-rays

In 1961 President John F. Kennedy stated the United States would land a man on the Moon and return him safely to Earth before the end of the decade. To achieve this ambitious goal, astronauts would need not only a spacecraft to launch them safely into space, but a spacesuit that would protect them as well. Without the proper clothing to keep them alive while traveling, living and working beyond the bonds of Earth, space exploration was not possible.

Suited for Space a new exhibition from the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service (SITES) and the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum, explores the evolution of spacesuit development from the first quarter of the 20th century until the dawn of the shuttle era. The exhibit makes its world premiere at the Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago on April 6 and runs through Sept. 25, 2011; it’s included in Museum general admission. The national exhibition tour of Suited for Space is supported by DuPont.

The exhibition features large-scale photographs of suits worn by astronauts that provide a visual timeline of the spacesuits’ development and evolution over the years, from Project Mercury through the Skylab program, as well as suits used in testing and training. Additionally, X-ray images provide a unique view of the spacesuits’ interiors and the layers of critical materials that go into them, as the suits themselves are too fragile to travel for exhibit.

Spacesuits had to perform two equally important but seemingly incompatible tasks: keep astronauts safe in inhospitable outer space, while also allowing them to move comfortably and perform delicate maneuvers.

The unique X-rays in the exhibition allow the public to see how the suits’ amazing and intricate engineering was able to achieve both these goals. The woven steel fabric in the Alan Shepherd’s Apollo 14 suit, for example, offered protection from the life-support backpack, which weighed 100 pounds on Earth; embedded shoulder rings prevented the suit’s shoulders from collapsing under the backpack. In the arms and legs of the suit, accordion-like folds called “convolutes” were hand-dipped in latex, contain nylon tricot and flexible rings and allowed the suit’s joints to flex and move when pressurized. Guests can see portals that fed the suit’s water-cooled undergarment, as well as the ones that allowed new air to enter and exhaled air to exit. The suit, which weighed 70 pounds itself on Earth, featured outer layers made of DuPont™ materials like Nomex®, Mylar®, Kapton® and Teflon®.

While the fragility of these spacesuits prevents them from traveling, the exhibition will feature a replica Apollo spacesuit on loan from NASA and 10 objects from the National Air and Space Museum’s collection, including a glove, a boot and helmets.

The exhibit includes images of suits that made history—like the one Buzz Aldrin wore on the Moon—and those that never left the ground such as the Mark V spacesuit designed for Project Mercury. The design of the Mark V suit included an oversized shoulder joint that provided an expanded level of mobility. However, with three astronauts sitting side-by-side in a capsule the size of the front seat of a small car, the suit was not feasible for the Apollo mission.

“Suited for Space is a truly inspiring exhibit,” said Anne Rashford, the Museum’s director of temporary exhibits. “Not only does it allow for a better understanding of what these astronauts had to face when venturing into space, it also demonstrates the kind of genius science and engineering that was needed to put them there, and to do it safely.”
DuPont™, Nomex®, Mylar®, Kapton® and Teflon® are trademarks or registered trademarks of DuPont.

Image: Shepard Spacsuite X-ray
An x-ray of Alan Shepard’s Apollo14 spacesuit allows curators and conservators to see inside space clothing—a task that had previously been done by peering through the neck or the wrist with a flashlight. [X-ray by Roland H. Cunningham and Mark Avino]

The Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago (MSI) offers thousands of fun and interactive exhibits and one-of-a-kind, world-class experiences to inspire the inventive genius in everyone. Through its Center for the Advancement of Science Education, MSI also aspires to a larger vision: to inspire and motivate children to achieve their full potential in science, technology, medicine and engineering. Come visit and find your inspiration! MSI is open every day except December 25, and regular hours are 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. The Museum is supported in part through the generosity of the people of Chicago through the Chicago Park District.

For more information, find MSI online at msichicago.org or call (773) 684-1414 or (800) GO-TO-MSI outside of the Chicago area.

Category: Science Technology

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