The world's first spacesuit for private astronauts isn't like NASA spacesuits. Created by Under Armour for Virgin Galactic customers who want to dip into space as tourists, the garments are designed to keep riders comfortable as they experience temperature changes, g-forces and weightlessness. The suit helps folks savor space -- not work in it.
, we got up close with the suit. Virgin Galactic and Under Armour staff were on hand to shed light on new details about the flight experience and garments.
Customers who pay $250,000 for a seat on the VSS Unity spaceship will be fitted with personalized suits as part of their ticket. Virgin Galactic is still running flight tests, but the company plans to send its first skyward sometime in 2020.
Plenty of pockets, but please keep them closed
Virgin Galactic knows people are going to want to bring trinkets and mementos into space. There are pockets all over the suit -- particularly throughout the torso and legs. But don't expect to take anything out once you reach the zero-G of low-Earth orbit. Virgin Galactic won't allow any loose objects in flight.
"In weightlessness you don't want a loose object to jam the controls or get in a seat or bump into a fellow customer," explained Beth Moses, chief astronaut instructor for Virgin Galactic.
The company expects folks to bring photos, and Under Armour included a clear pocket on the inside of the suit, right above the heart, to keep a photo of a loved one. How big is the pocket? I brought one of those Fujifilm Instax Mini prints to the event to try it out, and it fit perfectly.
Leave the phone on Earth
If you can't take it out of your pocket, there's not much use for a cellphone. So how will you get that selfie with planet Earth? The cabin will be fitted with cameras to capture the trip, so you don't have to worry about fumbling with selfies in the roughly five minutes you'll be weightless.
"You can carry really anything you want that is safe and healthy and small, we'll work all that out in training," Moses said.
Yes, there's a barf bag pocket (but you may not need it)
What if people get sick from the elevated g-forces or sudden weightlessness? The sensation of 3.5 G's are only felt for a few breaths, but no one wants their quarter-million-dollar trip ruined by someone's space sickness. Trainer Moses says it's not likely to happen, but the company has prepared for it.
"I really don't expect that anyone is going to get sick -- typically that is associated with longer-duration space flight or multiple, multiple cycles of G," Moses said, adding that she wasn't sick on her test flight and didn't need to medicate. But customers will train for three days before the flight to address these concerns.
"If you do want something ahead of the flight, medication or a bit of an experience in an aerobatic aircraft, we'll provide that to you," Moses added. "If after that, you have some kind of stomach awareness on your flight, there is a provision for that in a pocket, but I don't think anybody will ever use it."
Stephen Hawking is part of every flight
A quote from famed cosmologist and physicist Stephen Hawking is on a patch inside the suit on the chest, opposite the photo pocket. The quote reads:
"Taking more and more passengers out into space will enable them and us to look both outwards and back, but with a fresh perspective in both directions."
That quote was from a recorded speech Hawking gave in February 2016, at the unveiling ceremony for Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo: VSS Unity. Hawking said he always dreamed of flying to space, and Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson offered him a free seat on the ship. Hawking didn't live long enough to make that flight, as he died from complications of Lou Gehrig's disease in March of 2018.
But in a way, he will be traveling with every crew. The VSS Unity features the iris of professor Hawking's eye on the side.
An eye-opening mission patch
A removable mission patch on the right arm will be made unique for every flight. The patch features the names of each passenger and their signature. But the design and colors are also unique for every mission. At the center will be an image that blends the iris from every passenger's eyes to form one mega-cool-looking iris.
You can talk to the pilots with an earpiece
There's no space helmet for the flight. The cabin itself has padding, and the suits don't need to be pressurized since the craft only spends a few minutes outside the atmosphere.
Each flight will have six passengers and two pilots. Passengers will be fitted with an earpiece to communicate with the two pilots, according to Nick Cienski, Under Armour's lead spacesuit designer.
A comms button is built into the left sleeve, so passengers can push to talk to pilots when needed. The equipment for communication is tucked in pocket on the bicep. There's no microphone in the jacket itself, so it would need to be worn by the passenger in something like an earpiece.
The outfit will include gloves, not yet revealed
We didn't get to see the gloves modeled at the event, but Cienski said the spacesuits also include them, to aid with grip and keep fingers warm. It'll also protect fingers from getting bumped as folks are floating around the cabin.
Machine-washable for any occasion
If you're spending a fortune to travel into space, you won't want to keep that suit hidden in a closet. Feel free to wear it lounging around the house, on a grocery errand, or to the family BBQ. Because Cienski says it's machine washable.
That's good news for Jennifer Rallison, a Virgin Galactic customer from Calgary, Canada, who said at the event she would wear it "every Halloween for the rest of my life, obviously."