Elon Musk said he spent 3 to 4 years working on SpaceX's new spacesuits and hopes the design gets kids 'fired up' about astronauts

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Elon Musk said he spent 3 to 4 years working on SpaceX's new spacesuits and hopes the design gets kids 'fired up' about astronauts
NASA astronauts Bob Behnken, left, and Doug Hurley, wearing SpaceX spacesuits, during a dress rehearsal at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Jan. 17, 2020.SpaceX
  • SpaceX designed new spacesuits for NASA astronauts to wear on the rocket company's Crew Dragon spaceship.
  • The company's first crewed launch was originally scheduled for Wednesday but has been pushed back to Saturday. It will be the first time an American spacecraft has carried astronauts since 2011.
  • SpaceX CEO Elon Musk said on Wednesday that he worked on the suits for "three, almost four years."
  • The suits plug into the Crew Dragon's seats and are customized to fit the individual astronaut.

Though the NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley weren't able to launch on Wednesday because of poor weather, they did get a chance to show the world SpaceX's sleek new spacesuits.

The rocket company's first crewed launch, which has been pushed back to Saturday, will mark the first time NASA astronauts have launched in an American spacecraft since 2011. It will also be the first time people have ever flown a commercially developed spaceship.

Elon Musk's company worked with NASA to develop the black-and-white, form-fitting one-piece suits, as well as the spaceship overall, called Crew Dragon. The suits are designed to plug into the capsule's seats.

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"I personally spent a lot of time — it took us three, almost four years to design these suits that both look good and work well," Musk said during NASA's live coverage of the launch attempt on Wednesday.

A focus on form and function

Elon Musk said he spent 3 to 4 years working on SpaceX's new spacesuits and hopes the design gets kids 'fired up' about astronauts
NASA astronauts Doug Hurley (L) and Bob Behnken walk out of the Neil A. Armstrong Operations and Checkout Building at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center during a dress rehearsal ahead of NASA’s SpaceX Demo-2 mission to the International Space Station in Cape Canaveral, Florida, May 23, 2020.NASA/Brandon Garner/Reuters

Spacesuits are essentially complex, personalized, human-shaped spacecraft — they must be comfortable for the astronauts to wear during long flights inside small spacecraft while protecting them from changes in oxygen levels and pressure.

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Musk has focused on the appearance of SpaceX's suits since the company began designing them several years ago.

The New York Times reported that Musk tapped Jose Fernandez, a costume designer for superhero movies such as "Batman v Superman," "The Fantastic Four," "The Avengers," "X-Men II," among others, to create a prototype.

Fernandez told Bleep magazine in 2016 that Musk wanted the suits to stand out. "When people put this spacesuit on, he wants them to look better than they did without it, like a tux," Fernandez said. "You look heroic in it."

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Musk elaborated on that idea on Wednesday.

"You see the spacesuits in the movies — they look good, they don't work well," he said. "You can make a spacesuit that works, but it doesn't look good, because fundamentally it's a pressure suit that has to survive in a vacuum."

But Musk said he wanted to design a spacesuit to inspire kids to become astronauts and don the uniform themselves — to "get them fired up," he said.

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"Everyone should be excited that this is a thing made by humans, for humans," Musk added.

The suits were made in Hawthorne, California, in the same building as SpaceX's rockets. Each one is tailored to the crew member. They're designed to be a single piece, with specialized parts.

"A single connection point on the suit's thigh attaches life support systems, including air and power connections," NASA said in a press release. "The helmet is custom manufactured using 3D printing technology and includes integrated valves, mechanisms for visor retraction and locking, and microphones within the helmet's structure."

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The suits have touchscreen-compatible gloves that enable the astronauts to pilot the Crew Dragon, whose control panel is touchscreen-only.

These spacesuits are different from the ones worn on spacewalks outside the space station. For those, astronauts use NASA's Extravehicular Mobility Units, which are designed to work for eight to 10 hours in a full vacuum like space and protect astronauts from dangerous radiation.

Elon Musk said he spent 3 to 4 years working on SpaceX's new spacesuits and hopes the design gets kids 'fired up' about astronauts
Astronaut Steven Swanson is shown in an EMU spacesuit while floating outside the International Space Station.NASA

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The first time the SpaceX suit will be worn by a human in space

The SpaceX spacesuits have been put to the test twice before.

One was on the dummy at the wheel of the Tesla that SpaceX launched into space on its Falcon Heavy rocket in 2018.

Another was on the dummy called Ripley that flew aboard the Crew Dragon when it completed its uncrewed Demo-1 test flight last year.

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Elon Musk said he spent 3 to 4 years working on SpaceX's new spacesuits and hopes the design gets kids 'fired up' about astronauts
A Tesla Roadster with a mannequin wearing a SpaceX spacesuit in the driver's seat. The car was launched into space via a Falcon Heavy rocket in 2018.SpaceX

But Behnken and Hurley will be the first humans to test the suits while flying through space.

NASA astronauts who have gone to the space station have worn Russian Sokol suits, since the US has been buying seats on Russian Soyuz spacecraft since 2011.

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Elon Musk said he spent 3 to 4 years working on SpaceX's new spacesuits and hopes the design gets kids 'fired up' about astronauts
NASA astronauts Nick Hague and Christina Koch in Sokol pressure suitsNASA

But this mission is designed to restore NASA's ability to launch its own astronauts from US soil.

It's the product of NASA's Commercial Crew Program, a partnership between the space agency and private companies to build spaceships that can ferry astronauts to and from the space station.

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Elon Musk said he spent 3 to 4 years working on SpaceX's new spacesuits and hopes the design gets kids 'fired up' about astronauts
Astronauts Doug Hurley and Chris Ferguson in orange ACES launch-and-entry suitsNASA

Over the past six decades, NASA has used at least eight types of spacesuits.

Dave Mosher contributed reporting.

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