RT test drives newest space suit
23 Sep, 2009 06:47
Man hasn’t yet set foot on Mars, but the outfit he'll be wearing when he does is ready. They are produced at Russia's legendary spacesuit factory, which designed the garments used by the first man in space.
Like many Soviet-born kids, when Dmitry was young he dreamt of becoming a cosmonaut. And now his dreams have been fulfilled. Well, almost.“We all dreamt of space back then. Our victories in the space race spurred us on. Now I’m testing spacesuits, and that means my medical condition makes me eligible for a spaceflight. I hope it happens one day,” Dmitry says.Dmitry works at the legendary Zvezda factory. For more than four decades it has been designing rather unusual and complicated suits for air and space operations, including the garments of the first man in space – Russian, Yury Gagarin.In 1964, it produced the first suit capable of supporting life outside the capsule on a spacewalk – something also undertaken for the first time by a Russian, in 1969 – a suit to walk on the moon. However it was never used – the Soviet Union lost the race to land there to the US, and the Soviet lunar program was practically shut down.Zvezda has survived through it all and its products are still in high demand.“The Orlan-MK3 spacesuit is being now used for works at the International Space Station. It is designed to perform heavy duty works in outer space. It weighs around 115 kilograms. But this weight is barely felt in zero gravity,” test department head Gennadiy Shavelev explains.Zvezda’s latest model is designed for a Mars expedition. Even though man’s foot has yet to step on the Red Planet, Zvezda’s specialists believe it's not far away, and the first field tests of these spacesuits are already being carried out.“The MARS-500 experiment has started. We are testing this spacesuit for long-term works on the Martian surface. We have recreated all conditions and are testing whether the suit would last for 500 days on the Red Planet,” Shavelev boasts.Mars-500 spacesuit test driveAfter such an intriguing introduction, I couldn’t resist the temptation to try on the $10-million item of clothing.Putting this spacesuit on is like entering a closet. And that is the main difference between the Russian and American models.A short briefing on how to behave in it, several last minute preparations and off we went. To be honest, seeing the air pumped out and pressure fall inside the suit was a bit unnerving.In my first steps in a spacesuit I found it tough to breathe – the pressure is very strong. And even though it weighs in at around 35 kilograms, I felt like I had tons on my shoulders. I guess being a spaceman is indeed a tough job.The outfit makers say a skilled cosmonaut can work in this suit for hours. Something I found extremely difficult, as only a short walk was enough for me. Good thing they had a special chair for Cosmonauts that I could take a break on.I’ve been walking for only 10 minutes, but I feel like I’ve been working hard for the whole day. But I guess even spacemen have a chance to get some rest.Aleksey Yaroshevsky, RT