The world is full of children who dream of becoming astronauts. The sight of a spacesuit brings drool to their mouths and captivation to the imagination. Yet the mind of a child—or most adults, for that matter—could never imagine the complexity and ingenuity that it requires. These Extravehicular Mobility Units (EMUs) have to withstand incredible fluctuation in temperature outside of Earth’s atmosphere, provide oxygen to the astronauts, and withstand debris that may be floating in space. But did you know Connecticut companies played an important role in the development of the space suits?
HAMILTON STANDARD LEADS THE WAY
In 1962, with the beginning of the space exploration program, NASA put out a bid to develop a suit for astronauts to wear. The winning bid teamed together Hamilton Standard (which is now UTC Aerospace Systems) with a company
called ILC Dover out of Delaware. ILC Dover specialized in the development of specially engineered systems, and Hamilton Standard was assigned to work with them due to ILC’s inexperience with government contracts. The first prototypes were submitted to NASA in 1966 and performed poorly, leading NASA to initially cancel the contract.
After a second design competition, Hamilton Standard and ILC Dover were again selected to work together. ILC Dover created the body suit and Hamilton Standard developed the life support system to go with it, a piece of equipment that weighed in excess of 80 lbs. and included multiple convoluted systems vital to keeping astronauts alive in space. Their Apollo Lunar Space Suit was used in every Apollo mission, and logged 160 hours on the lunar surface. For each program participant of the program, a suit was specifically designed for them. A space suit was specifically designed for each program participant.
In 1974, after the close of the Apollo program, ILC Dover and Hamilton Standard again won a joint contract to develop the EMU for the space shuttle program in 1974, which, after years of development, went into commission in 1982. The contract was set up much like the Apollo development, with ILC developing the suit and Hamilton Standard creating the vital life support system for the suit. This new suit was more flexible to accommodate the different tasks undertaken on the Space Shuttle missions, which were usually done floating in space tethered to the Shuttle as opposed to moonwalking like on Apollo missions.
With the launch of the International Space Station in 1998, the EMU was refigured again so that the suits became modular, allowing the suits to remain at the ISS for up to two years. The EMUs were the suit for NASA missions until the end of the Space Shuttle program in 2011.
CONNECTICUT BUSINESSES SUPPORT
Another key player in the development of the American endeavor in the Space Race was International Fuel Cells (which was later named UTC Power) based out of South Windsor, CT. Originally launched in 1958 as a division of Pratt & Whitney to support NASA missions, the company developed the fuel cells that powered operations on Apollo and Space Shuttle vessels, as well as the company also provided drinking water for astronauts. Over the years, it was improved as technology improved and was used until the end of the Space Shuttle program in 2011 as well.
During the development of the International Space Station, especially, but also throughout the development of the Space program, as many as 200 companies have been involved in some way, providing parts that ultimately became the space suits, space shuttles, International Space Station, and other key parts of the NASA program. This speaks the powerhouse of manufacturing that NASA recognized in Connecticut.
Sources: A. Davis, The Epic Battle Behind the Apollo Spacesuit, Wired, 2011; Encyclopedia Astronautica, Shuttle EMU; New York Times, Big Role in Space for Connecticut Companies, 1998; Wikipedia: ILC Dover, Primary Life Support System, Extravehicular Mobility Unit, UTC Power.