How Much Does a NASA Spacesuit Cost?
NASA enthusiasts – especially younger ones – enjoy dressing up as astronauts, complete with a spacesuit costume modeled after the real spacesuits worn by NASA crewmembers. Naturally, the spacesuits you can buy at a store are going to be far more affordable than the actual spacesuits worn by astronauts themselves. Still, you might be surprised by just how expensive a NASA spacesuit actually is, until you consider all that goes into making one.
The Cost of a NASA Spacesuit
Back in 1974, NASA revealed that a spacesuit cost between $15-22 million, which comes out to about $83-122 million today. This was 13 years after the first spacesuit, the Mercury suit, was created for astronaut Alan B Shepard, the first American astronaut to enter space. Since the Mercury was first designed, other spacesuits quickly followed to improve the concept and use the latest technology available to NASA engineers.
At the moment, NASA is in the process of developing their newest spacesuit, which is estimated to be $1 billion per suit. Because of how expensive it is to produce just one, missions themselves may be postponed due to a lack of funding. This new design will be called the xEMU (Exploration Extravehicular Mobility Unit), outfitted with the latest technology that exists to keep astronauts as safe as possible, while enabling them to perform important functions while wearing one.
What Goes into Making a Spacesuit for NASA
We know that $1 billion is a lot of money for one garment. But, there’s a reason for the sticker shock. A spacesuit isn’t just a piece of clothing. It contains a large variety of extremely advanced technological mechanisms that allow for communications, safety, and the ability to perform processes and experiments as efficiently as possible.
It might make more sense to look at a spacesuit as a personalized piece of spacecraft rather than an article of clothing. There are a number of things that a spacesuit must be outfitted with to protect the astronaut from dangers like:
- Sun radiation
- The vacuum of space
- Fast-traveling space particles
- Oxygen deprivation
- Disruption of communications
- Health risks associated with space conditions
The solution to these potential risks is to make spacesuits that contain a number of technological instruments that act as safety features, so to speak. But, as you probably already know, this type of technology isn’t cheap. Many of it is new, and incredibly costly to develop and manufacturer, not to mention make small enough to fit into a spacesuit the size of the human body.
You may be surprised to learn that the most expensive part of all is the gloves – yes, those little things that cover the astronaut’s hands. That’s because an astronaut needs full dexterity, in order to fulfill their missions. But, the gloves are actually a complex technological design that involves some of the most advanced heating technology that exists, along with interior mechanisms that aid in dexterity in space’s atmosphere.
There’s also the backpack, which is outfitted with a number of safety mechanisms that essentially serve as the spacesuit’s life support system. This includes temperature regulation, carbon dioxide removal, and much more.
Keep in mind, too, that spacesuits can have errors and glitches. And, throughout history, there have been times where malfunctions have occurred, to the serious risk of the astronaut wearing the suit. So, more money must go into research and development to correct these glitches, arguably to the extent of overcompensating. And, naturally, that costs a lot of money.
Over the years, NASA’s missions have evolved, and so have spacesuits. New instruments have been developed to enable processes that were not a priority decades ago. And, missions have diversified, so different spacesuit designs must be created so that astronauts can accomplish different tasks depending on where they’re headed, and what they will be doing once they reach destination. Combine that with the fact that spacesuits can get damaged during missions, and you can understand why an incredible amount of funding needs to go into the development of this one area of NASA engineering.