NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley just gave SpaceX's new spacesuits a '5-star review'

NASA astronauts Bob Behnken (left) and Doug Hurley (right) inside SpaceX's Crew Dragon spaceship.NASA
  • NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley wore new SpaceX spacesuits when they launched toward the International Space Station on Saturday.
  • It was the company's first time launching people and the first time the spacesuits were worn (by humans) in space.
  • Hurley said the spacesuits were "very comfortable" during a press conference from the space station. Behnken added that he'd "give the suits a five-star rating."

SpaceX launched its first human passengers, NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley, into orbit on Saturday. They were wearing new spacesuits — the first time the company's suits were tested by humans in space.

The astronauts wore the spacesuits for part of the 19-hour-long flight to the International Space Station (ISS), where they'll stay for the next one to four months.

During a press briefing on Monday from the ISS, Business Insider asked the astronauts to review the sleek-looking suits. Hurley said the suits are "very comfortable."Advertisement

Behnken added: "Both Doug and I, we'd have to give the suits a five-star rating."

SpaceX's Demo-2 mission lifts off with NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley inside the Crew Dragon spaceship.Tony Gray and Tim Powers/NASA

A new design for a historic mission

The spacesuits were custom-fitted for each astronaut and designed to connect to the seats in SpaceX's Crew Dragon spaceship.
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Spacesuits are essentially complex, personalized, human-shaped spacecraft: They must be flexible for astronauts to wear during long flights inside small spacecraft, but thick and heavy enough to protect them from changes in oxygen levels and pressure.

"This one is point-designed for us to sit in our seats and protect us if there's a fire or any sort of a problem with the atmosphere onboard Dragon — if it's leaking out or has smoke in it or anything like that," Behnken said. "These suits that didn't have to do that job for us, which was nice, but it was clear that they were ready."
Astronaut Doug Hurley rehearses putting on his SpaceX spacesuit in the Astronaut Crew Quarters at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on May 23, 2020, during a full dress rehearsal ahead of the Demo-2 mission to the International Space Station.Kim Shiflett/NASA
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The spacesuits were designed by SpaceX at the company's headquarters in Hawthorne, California. They're made to be a single-piece garment 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."

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

SpaceX's crewed launch marked the first time NASA astronauts have launched in an American spacecraft since 2011, and the first time people have ever flown a commercially developed spaceship. The mission was 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.

The suits had been in space before — but not on people

The SpaceX spacesuits had been put to the test twice before this launch: Once on the dummy at the wheel of the Tesla that SpaceX launched into space on its Falcon Heavy rocket in 2018, and then on the dummy called Ripley that flew on the Crew Dragon during its uncrewed Demo-1 test flight last year.

SpaceX's Falcon Heavy rocket launched a Tesla Roadster with a mannequin wearing a SpaceX spacesuit in 2018.SpaceX
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Behnken and Hurley had practiced wearing the suits in flight simulations on the ground as well.

"Bob and I have had a ton of time in those suits. I bet you we've donned and doffed those suits a couple hundred times," Hurley said, adding that the suits worked better in space than on the ground.

"They were actually much easier to get in and out of in zero g, as we figured out over the course of the two days," he said.Advertisement

Most recently, the NASA astronauts who have gone to the space station wore Russian Sokol suits, since the US had been buying seats on Russian Soyuz spacecraft since 2011.

NASA astronauts Nick Hague and Christina Koch in Sokol suits.NASA

Musk's design vision

During NASA's coverage of the first launch attempt on Wednesday, which was scrubbed due to poor weather, Musk said he'd focused on the appearance of SpaceX's suits since the company began designing them.Advertisement

"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," he said.

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.Advertisement

"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."

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk celebrates the launch of astronauts on the Demo-2 mission, from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, May 30, 2020.Steve Nesius/Reuters

Musk elaborated on that idea on Wednesday.Advertisement

"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.

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

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