Hot and Heavy: Spacesuits


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As a child in sunny Los Angeles, I snickered at my cousins’ back-east tales of being wrestled into snowsuits. According to them, winter meant drowning in sweat under layers of nylon and down. Arms unbending, they all begrudgingly awaited the day when they would be old enough to put on a frippin’ coat. Or better yet, earn the right to just be cold now and again. On the outside, I nodded sympathetically. On the inside, I wished them good luck. Then, I went back to my game of beach volleyball.

Now, I’ve grown up and wear snowsuits – er – spacesuits for a living.

Welcome to Mars: it CAN get toasty, but is usually frosty. According to NASA, our friendly neighborhood 4th rock from the sun can be as warm as 70 degrees F – at the equator, at noon, during the summertime. Most of the time, the surface of the planet tops out at around 0 degrees F. From there, the mercury dips into the -200’s.

No human wants to be that cold. When the temperature hangs around a mean -50 degrees C, even the strongest of us reaches into the closet for the nylon Stay-Puft alternative to freezing solid.

What is a space suit, then? Essentially, a snowsuit for extraterrestrials. With air pressure. Since the Apollo Era, the tradition has been this:

1. Decide to leave the place where you were born (Earth, presumably).

2. Encase yourself in a sort of milk bottle: a white device designed to shield you from the very Universe you just went to a lot of trouble to go see.

3. Field a lot of questions about how you go to the bathroom in it.



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