The newly-revealed suits will be used by astronauts aboard SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft.
As we have seen with the recent developments in his electric car venture Tesla, entrepreneur Elon Musk doesn’t care much for the status quo. Rather than leverage the existing infrastructure of an assembly plant, Musk is building his historically large Gigafactory in the Nevada desert to make cars his own way.
It should then come as no surprise that he would double down on innovation for his extraterrestrial venture SpaceX. On Wednesday, Musk unveiled the long-awaited spacesuits designed for astronauts aboard the company’s Dragon spacecraft. They look more “Stormtrooper” than “NASA,” but underneath the stark aesthetic is something his competitors don’t have (or at least aren’t advertising) — a functioning and operational prototype.
Musk claimed as much during the big reveal on his Instagram account:
With this development comes the realization that the commercial spacecraft industry is maturing far faster than many might realize. While the suits are no means finalized, their functional status keeps pace with the ongoing development of the Dragon spacecraft, which the company hopes will begin conducting manned test flights as early as next year.
Despite the excitement over this unveiling, it warrants mentioning that the suits pictured here are more accurately “flight suits” rather than “space suits.” They’re not meant to operate outside the craft. However, news that they have been tested and are at least somewhat functional may belie the assumption that Boeing is further ahead on their suits just because it shared the design earlier this year. Boeing and SpaceX are amid a rivalry to establish themselves as the premier commercial spacecraft and exploration firms in the world. Just as in the 1960s, this space race appears to be very much a question of who can get things done first.
Boeing hasn’t recently spoken to the functionality of their suits, but now that Elon Musk has, that just might change.