Space Age: Style for the Next Generation of Travelers

Take a spin through the history of spacesuit design, and see where the field is headed tomorrow.

Have you ever agonized over what to wear on a long travel day? Sometimes wardrobe decisions can be far more complicated than you'd expect. If you're flying, what's the temperature going to be like on the plane? What happens if you're traveling from a cold destination to a hot one? How do you balance style and comfort? Well, fortunately in the realm of space travel, none of these questions will concern you.

Blue Origin First Human Flight L0 Astronaut Wings
Felix Kunze/Courtesy of Blue Origin

Given that space tourism for the (ultra-wealthy) masses is finally taking off — this summer alone, private spaceflight companies Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic both completed successful test flights with passengers on board — you might be wondering just what you'll need to wear on a trip to space. But don't give it a second thought; passengers who book flights to space will be provided with flight suits or spacesuits for their journeys.

Space is a pretty inhospitable place, which means it's crucial for spacegoers to wear high-tech protective garments designed to keep them safe and comfortable — and in some cases, looking pretty stylish. And while the space tourism industry is relatively new, spaceflight itself isn't, and spacesuit designers can pull from decades of experience.

Astronaut Bruce McCandless on First-ever Untethered Spacewalk
Astronaut Bruce McCandless II, STS-41-B mission specialist, uses his hands to control his movement above the Earth -- just a few meters away from the space shuttle Challenger -- during the first-ever spacewalk which didn't use restrictive tethers and umbilicals on Feb. 7, 1984. Courtesy of NASA

Space Style Through the Years

The very first spacesuit to be worn in space was Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin's SK-1, a bright orange full-pressure jumpsuit. NASA, on the other hand, developed something practically pretty similar, but stylistically very different for the Mercury Project: shiny aluminum-coated pressure suits that definitely fit the classic sci-fi aesthetic. NASA would then go on to develop the Gemini spacesuit, a matte white version of the Mercury spacesuit that was designed for extravehicular activity (EVA), or spacewalks, which provided life support to the astronauts via a tube connected to their spacecraft.

Looking Back- The Mercury 7
On April 9, 1959, NASA introduced its first astronaut class, the Mercury 7. Front row, left to right: Walter M. Schirra, Jr., Donald K. "Deke" Slayton, John H. Glenn, Jr., and M. Scott Carpenter; back row, Alan B. Shepard, Jr., Virgil I. "Gus" Grissom, and L. Gordon Cooper, Jr. Courtesy of NASA

When the Apollo missions came around, NASA had to develop an all-new spacesuit capable of protecting astronauts as they walked on the moon, a harsh environment with sharp pieces of regolith (moon dust) and rocks that could tear flimsy materials, not to mention dramatic temperature swings and intense exposure to radiation. The result was what you probably imagine to be the quintessential spacesuit in your mind — the bulky white suits with large life-support "backpacks" and round helmets with reflective visors.

Buzz Aldrin on the Moon
Astronaut Buzz Aldrin walks on the surface of the moon near the leg of the lunar module Eagle during the Apollo 11 mission. Courtesy of NASA

Next, NASA developed the Space Shuttle spacesuits, or ​​Advanced Crew Escape Suit (ACES). Rather unsurprisingly, they were nicknamed "pumpkin suits" for their bright orange color. Though their hue might be a little arresting, that's by design; they're far easier to spot in the ocean than a white suit, should an astronaut have to bail out. Russia's Roscosmos space agency simultaneously developed the similar-looking (albeit white, not orange) Sokol spacesuit to be used during launch and landing of its Soyuz spacecraft — both the Sokol and Soyuz are still in use today.

Looking Back- Astronaut Mae Jemison Suits Up For Launch
On Sept. 12, 1992, launch day of the STS-47 Spacelab-J mission on space shuttle Endeavour, NASA astronaut Mae Jemison waits as her suit technician, Sharon McDougle, performs a unpressurized and pressurized leak check on her spacesuit at the Operations and Checkout Building at Kennedy Space Center. Courtesy of NASA

The ACES and Sokol spacesuits are designed solely for in-vehicle use during launches and landings, so when astronauts and cosmonauts perform spacewalks outside the International Space Station (ISS), they actually don Extravehicular Mobility Unit (EMU) or Orlan spacesuits, which are far bulkier for extra protection and longer-duration life-support.

Astronaut Thomas Pesquet during a solar array installation spacewalk
Expedition 65 Flight Engineer Thomas Pesquet of ESA (European Space Agency) is pictured attached to an articulating portable foot restraint on the end of the Canadarm2 robotic arm during a spacewalk to install new roll out solar arrays on the International Space Station's P-6 truss structure on June 16, 2021. Courtesy of NASA

The Space Style of Today... and Tomorrow

Thanks to advances in technology over the past few decades, today's spacesuits have been streamlined quite a bit, not only improving their style, but also their mobility, making it much easier for astronauts to move around in space. Here are the spacesuits of today's spaceflight companies — and a few that are just down the road.


SpaceX DM2 Crew - Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley
NASA astronauts Robert Behnken (left) and Doug Hurley will launch to the International Space Station on the Demo-2 mission – the crew flight test of SpaceX’s Crew Dragon. Ashish Sharma/Courtesy of SpaceX

Everything about SpaceX's design aesthetic is futuristic and minimalist, and that includes its spacesuits. The company tapped Hollywood costume designer José Fernández, who worked on such films as "The Avengers," "X-Men II," and "The Fantastic Four," to develop the prototype for its spacesuit. More specifically, SpaceX founder Elon Musk asked Fernandez to develop a tuxedo-style suit, resulting in the ultra-sleek product that The New York Times described as "James Bond's tuxedo if it were redesigned by Tony Stark as an upgrade for James T. Kirk's next big adventure." So far, 10 astronauts have flown to the ISS in SpaceX's swanky suits.

Virgin Galactic

Under Armour x Virgin Galactic Base Layer and Space Suite
Under Armour x Virgin Galactic Base Layer and Space Suite. Courtesy of Under Armour

As Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo vehicle is designed only for short-duration suborbital missions, its passengers don't need to wear a bulky full-pressure suit. Instead, they'll wear blue Under Armour gear designed specifically for spaceflights, including a bodysuit with high-tech materials such as Celliant, a mineral-based infrared technology designed to help your body recover faster from physical exertion, and booties with ultra-soft UA HOVR cushioning for maximum comfort before and during flight.

Blue Origin

Blue Origin First Human Flight L0 Crew Landed
Felix Kunze/Courtesy of Blue Origin

Blue Origin's New Shepard vehicle is also designed for short-duration suborbital missions, so its passengers will also wear lightweight flight suits rather than full-pressure spacesuits. While the spaceflight company hasn't released many details about the suits, we got a sneak peek at them during its most recent test flight — the first crewed flight for New Shepard.

Boeing Starliner

NASA astronaut Eric Boe wears Boeing's new spacesuit designed to be worn by astronauts flying on the CST-100 Starliner.
NASA astronaut Eric Boe wears Boeing's new spacesuit designed to be worn by astronauts flying on the CST-100 Starliner. Courtesy of Boeing

Though Boeing's Starliner spacecraft has yet to fly humans, it'll eventually ferry NASA astronauts to the ISS — and they'll be wearing pressurized blue spacesuits for the journey. While the overall look is somewhat similar to NASA's previous designs, the Boeing spacesuit is 40 percent lighter (read: easier to move in while worn).


A New Spacesuit for Artemis Generation Astronauts
Kristine Davis, a spacesuit engineer at NASA’s Johnson Space Center, wearing a ground prototype of NASA’s new Exploration Extravehicular Mobility Unit (xEMU), and Dustin Gohmert, Orion Crew Survival Systems Project Manager at NASA’s Johnson Space Center, wearing the Orion Crew Survival System suit. Joel Kowsky/Courtesy of NASA

NASA's next major mission is Artemis, which will see humans return to the moon (including the first woman) as soon as 2024. For the mission, the agency is developing two new spacesuits. There's the Exploration Extravehicular Mobility Unit (xEMU), which improves upon the current EMU suits and the Apollo-era moon suits, and the Orion Crew Survival System suit, designed for in-flight use on the new Orion spacecraft, which will take astronauts to the moon.

Stefanie Waldek is a freelance space, travel, and design journalist. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter at @stefaniewaldek.

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