As Atlantis returns from its last mission, a guide to NASA's orange space suits.

Experiments in multimedia journalism.
July 20 2011 4:28 PM

Pumpkins in Space

An interactive guide to all those gizmos on NASA's orange space suits.

Many astronaut accessories will be shelved when NASA's last shuttle mission returns Thursday, and perhaps none represents the era of manned spaceflight better than the spacesuit itself. During the launch and the landing, NASA astronauts wear something called the Advanced Crew Escape Suit, often called the "pumpkin suit" because of its color. These elaborate garments include incredibly sophisticated technology for temperature and pressure control and are equipped with dozens of gadgets for every conceivable emergency as the astronauts leave and return to Earth.

The following annotated photo offers a guide to every gizmo and decoration on the suit. Just hover over the highlighted sections to find out what each part does. 

The dual suit controller, the brains of the space suit. The controller opens and closes automatically to regulate the suit pressure according to ambient pressure.This port is hooked up to a liquid air machine that pumps cool air into the suit. An uncapped ventilation inlet valve <a href="">almost led to the drowning</a> of astronaut Gus Grissom, the second American to fly in space. Today, the vent connector has a flapper valve to prevent water from entering.The right-leg survival gear pocket contains a radio with 24 hours of battery life, an earphone and spare antenna, a signal mirror visible up to 40 miles, two motion sickness pills, and a survival mitten (the other one to be found in the left survival pocket).The left-leg survival gear pocket includes a strobe light (for long distance communication in case of an emergency, visible up to 50 miles), two &#34;Chem Lights&#34; (green 12-hr Cyalume light sticks; to activate in case of emergency, bend to break glass vial and shake), flare kit (seven cartridges visible from up to 50 meters, for when visual contact is made with SAR forces), day/night flares (gloves recommended), and a survival mitten (the other one to be found in the right survival pocket).Knife and shroud line cutter used for the parachute found in the seats in the shuttle.An oxygen operator and pressure controller. The oxygen manifold (orange hose) leads to the back of the suit and helps to control oxygen inflow for pressure to the lower body.Chemlite pocket. Red light sticks are activated preventively before launch and landing to facilitate cabin lighting and in potential emergency situations.The American flag. All the badges are supplied by <a href="">AB Emblem</a>.<a href="">Blue</a>, long-sleeve, long-pant thermal underwear lined with tubes (for cooling water).The <a href="">astronaut badge</a>. Depending on the astronaut&#39;s role and branch of prior service&mdash;Air Force, Navy, Marines, Army, civilian&mdash;the patch&#39;s color and specific type of wings vary. Mission Specialist Rex Walheim&#39;s U.S. Air Force badge is blue with white stitching, Mission Specialist Sandra Magnus&#39; civilian badge is blue with golden stitching, Cmdr. Chris Ferguson&#39;s Navy badge is blue with golden stitching and pilot Doug Hurley&#39;s Marines badge is red with golden stitching.The <a href="">STS-135</a> mission patch represents this particular space mission to resupply the International Space Station. <i>Atlantis</i> is centered over elements of the NASA emblem and identified as the last flight of the Space Shuttle Program by an Omega, the last letter in the Greek alphabet. The names of all four astronauts are displayed on the badge. <a href="">Patches</a> are created by professional graphic designers, but the design is still directed by each astronaut crew.The <a href="">NASA &#34;meatball&#34; logo</a>, dating back to 1959, shows a sphere, stars, and a red chevron.Heavy black leather "paratrooper" boots with zippers instead of laces, strong enough to support the feet and ankles in the event of a parachute fall but flexible enough to allow the astronaut to run. No cloth is used on the boot as a way to prevent burn injuries in the event of a flash fire. (During the Vietnam War, aircraft crews wearing jungle boots, with their nylon uppers, were injured when the material melted onto the person&#39;s skin when an aircraft caught fire.) A <a href="">NASA document</a> says that each boot has a colored Velcro Patch with a letter for crewmember identification during SAR operations. <a href="">Rocky Boots</a> are also worn by firefighters and police and are commercially available.The personal pocket. Astronauts can put anything they want here, as long as it fits into this pocket. Common items include: personal glasses, medicine, pens, pencils, flash lights, note pads, extra watches, photos, calculators. Astronauts also have a personal locker in the cabin where they can store anything that does not fit. Commander Chris Ferguson reportedly carried a medallion to celebrate the centennial of naval aviation, for example, while others took Marine Corps and Navy flags, NASCAR flags, and trinkets and charms for family members.This is where the white strap and full length, air-tight zipper that goes all over the back terminates.This strap can be tightened and loosened, which helps pressurize the suit during flight. This works the same way as adjusting for the changing distance from waist and chin depending on whether you sit or stand.The astronaut&#39;s class badge. Each class of astronauts has a badge. Sandra Magnus and Rex Walheim were in the same astronaut&#39;s class and wear the same badge. Wearing the badge is not mandatory; Cmdr. Chris Ferguson is not wearing one.A small polished metal piece on an elastic band that functions like a mirror. Walheim uses this to see above his head and out the windows to better operate the shuttle as mission specialist No. 2.The neck ring attaches the helmet.The second personal pocket. The astronauts can put anything they want in there, but it is mostly used for pens, as can be seen in Hurley&#39;s case.

Above are space shuttle Atlantis astronauts (right to left) Cmdr. Chris Ferguson, pilot Doug Hurley, and Mission Specialists Sandra Magnus and Rex Walheim.


Correction, July 21, 2011:The annotation on Hurley's left chest originally misidentified the NASA "meatball" patch as the STS-135 mission patch (on his right chest) and vice versa..





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