For nearly ten years now, NASA has been dependent on Russia and its sturdy Soyuz capsules to send their astronauts into orbit, due to a lack of funds. That’s now ancient history thanks to a new start-up that specialises in aeronautics founded by Elon Musk. In 2002, the young South African made a fortune by selling shares in the company he’d established in 1999: PayPal. The entrepreneur has since joined the frantic space race, squaring up to historic behemoths such as Boeing or Lockheed Martin. In 2006, his fledgling company, Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX), won its first contract with NASA to supply the International Space Station. Fourteen years later, on Saturday May 30th, 2020, Elon Musk launched his first Falcon-9 rocket, thus becoming the first private player in space history to launch into orbit.
For its first big outing, SpaceX designed all the equipment, from the engines to spacesuits, revealed on Wednesday May 27th on Twitter. In a futuristic white, this spacesuit with a grey trim seems to adhere less to a practical concern and more to aesthetic considerations, blurring the boundaries between reality and fiction. When ventures go private, we know there’s a search for profit, rendering these astronauts a veritable showcase for desirable new products: no more heavy spacesuits, astronauts now look like Stormtroopers styled by Daft Punk.
Crew Dragon Animation
Dragon Animation Crew
If these lightweight, immaculate white suits seem strangely familiar to us, it’s no surprise: the man behind these creations is none other than Hollywood costume designer José Fernandez, famous for his work on the films Batman vs Superman (2016) and The Fantastic Four (2005). While Hollywood still seems to be inspired by the real spacesuits of astronauts, in the undoubtedly somewhat megalomaniac eyes of the Tesla founder, this vision of things seemed outdated. He wanted the suit to look like a "space tuxedo", according to the New York Times, to whom he confided that, "Anyone looks better in a tux, no matter what size or shape they are".
In reality, a trip to space requires two types of suits: a lighter one for the interior of the rocket, and an “outdoor” outfit, also known as an EVA (Extra-Vehicular Activity). If the one presented by Elon Musk seems so light, it’s also because it’s not intended to be worn outside the rocket. On the contrary, science-fiction films have driven the collective imagination into perceiving the space suit as something very heavy, i.e. like this famous EVA outfit. 2001, The Space Odyssey (1968), Ad Astra (2019), The Martian (2015) and High Life (2018), all offer their own version of bulky equipment, often orange, carpeted with hundreds of buttons and other gadgets. With its exaggerated shoulders and articulated shells, the SpaceX uniform ironically meets the Hollywood superhero standards, and strangely resembles costumes from the movie Tron: Heritage (2010) - on which José Fernandez also worked. Indeed, these spacesuits are far removed from the way American movies have imagined the space conquest…