Glad he has gone for a shower, now for some quality me time. History of spacesuits is one thing, reality -yeah. This is where the real exploration goes on - in your imagination. I’m going to give you a tour - a tour of how space suits could be!
Have you noticed in explanatory essays how it is best to follow a chronology, leaping to the latest suit destroys the journey it took to get there. Unnecessary in this essay. As a smart suit I’m going to take a dip here and there where I please.
Unlike real space suits, suits from fiction and fantasy go from the almost practical to well the minimalist impracticality of Barbarella (1968), for example. Now that is why I grew up wanting to be a space-suit!
Not that Barbarella is an inconsistent 1960s aberrant sexploitation film, no way. That would be the 1974 film Flesh Gordon you are thinking of. In Barbarella spacesuits were minimalist for both males and females.
The first known science fiction film the 1902 Georges Méliès film Le Voyage dans la lune set this trend. Based loosely on two popular novels of the time: Jules Verne’s From the Earth to the Moon and H. G. Wells’ The First Men in the Moon, it is now considered a classic.
Here the space travelers are meeting the King of the Selenites, they are decked out in Fin de siècle spacesuits, frock coats, spats and hats and carrying umbrellas, in case the weather turns poorly on the Moon, I expect. Accessories such as these have sometimes grabbed the headlines far in excess of their utility and at the expense of the main character. I remind you of a certain sonic screwdriver, the owners name is at best remembered as a question only for goodness sake. As for a towel, I ask you how can that seriously compete with the sartorial elegance of the suits in A Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy (2005).
Not allowing you or me to get distracted by accessories, instead returning to the main theme of this essay, The Spacesuit. The French ground crew, seen below, ready to seal the manned capsule in the gun barrel to shoot for the Moon, were I think an inspiration for many of Barbarella’s spacesuits. NASA and Mars One could well do with taking note of this observation.
There is a key distinction in fantasy between the in-ship suit and the extravehicular and on-planet suit. They are a bit on the light side, need neither the smarts nor muscle of us, but they do have their uses and place.
The tacit acknowledgement by all that inside space ships are comfortable and with Earth-like atmosphere and gravity, this has led to futuristic apre-space fashions. These can vary from the comfortable and colorful outfits from the TV series Star Trek (1966-9) and Lost in Space (1965-8).
To the more figure-hugging of the 1970 British TV series UFO, modeling here with Joan Harrington and Gay Ellis. More prone to fashion excess, you do have ‘brief’ trends, although the fashion of wearing underwear on the outside has always been a puzzlement to me. One I will leave with your imagination to dwell on.
As for excesses such as the addition of capes in Battlestar Galactica (1978), well hardly practical (fashion sense I will leave to you the reader) even within the spacious ships of fiction and bound to lead to tears (see image below of the inside of the Jupiter II from Lost in Space).
It is acknowledgement of this in-ship closeness;
that leads to the popularity and pervasiveness of in-ship spacesuits being close fitting:
The 1950s, 1960s and 70s were great for form and function, as demonstrated in these shots from 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968):
And then again form UFO and from The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951).
These were not always successful. This image from Destination Moon (1950), could be at best described as ‘comfy’ something their Aunt put together for them.
It is a pity that the Russian’s launched the first woman into space in 1963, missing this inspirational handout from the movie The Green Slime (1968). It is a concern is that the guy suits alone have life support and nifty jets and the female’s just a larger helmet to allow her hair to flow freely under zero gravity. The female suit I suspect is just smarter, hightech brain smart materials rather than mere brawn. Although a cut-away neckline and no gloves would have both Soviet and NASA Occ Health & Safety guys having palpitations and needing a lie down.
Really not much improved into the 2000s, The Adventures of Pluto Nash (2002) could have been shot in the 1960s.
It took a further generational leap for film to catch onto the smart- and gel-suits of literature. Thank you Iain M Banks for imagining my forebears. Subsequent to his books there was the flurry of Mars-suits inspired by the NASA mobile laboratory Curiosity roving over Mars during 2012-4 and the spectacular Mars One media showcase of 2023.
It is fitting, I think that I finish with one last Barbarella suit. This was after all why I, and a generation of others worked so hard to become smart-suits, so that we could spend our time exploring space, like the suit in this picture.
Oh dear he is back, I do hope he doesn’t persist in ‘singing’ Space Oddity for this entire jaunt!