How to Build a DIY Spacesuit

Slate’s design blog.
Dec. 3 2013 1:19 PM

How to Build a Spacesuit at Home

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This DIY spacesuit cost $2000; NASA's suits cost $12 million.

Courtesy of Julie Sabatier

By far the best design podcast around—and one of the best podcasts, period—is Roman Mars’ 99% Invisible. On it he covers design questions large and small, from his fascination with rebar to the history of slot machines to the great Los Angeles Red Car conspiracy. Here at The Eye, we will be cross-posting his new episodes so you can check them out, and we’ll also host excerpts from his podcast’s terrific blog, which offers complementary visuals for each episode.

His most recent show—about DIY spacesuits—can be played below. Or keep reading to learn more.

Cameron Smith is building a spacesuit in his apartment.

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He’s not an astronaut. He’s not even an engineer. Cameron Smith is an archaeologist in the anthropology department at Portland State University in Oregon. But Smith is an explorer by nature. He’s been diving in Puget Sound, survived arctic winters in Iceland and Alaska, and summited Oregon’s Mount Hood more times than he can count.

Now he wants to take on outer space. And since Smith doesn’t have an entire space program behind him, that means doing it on the cheap. His homemade spacesuit costs $2,000. A standard-issue suit from NASA runs about $12 million.

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Cameron Smith's DIY spacesuit

Courtesy of Julie Sabatier

The spacesuit has been three years in the making. Eventually, Smith will put on the suit and step into a gondola and a balloon (also homemade) that will take him up 50,000 feet in the air. At that point, he’ll be depending on his own craftiness to keep himself alive.

Smith’s efforts are part of a whole do-it-yourself space race that’s been popping up all over the world. Sure, there are commercial ventures like XCOR and Virgin Galactic creating their own space-bound hardware, offering flights starting at $95,000 and $250,000, respectively. But there are also people trying to make space travel available and affordable for more than just the very wealthy.

Copenhagen Suborbitals is one member of this DIY space community. They build rockets and space capsules in an abandoned shipyard in Denmark.

Copehnagen Suborbitals and Cameron Smith have been working together on the spacesuit project; Smith may build suits for them to use once they’re ready to replace their crash-test dummy with a live human being.

To learn more about DIY spacesuits, read the rest of the 99% Invisible post or listen to the show. You can follow Smith and Copenhagen Suborbitals' progress on their Wired science blog Rocket Shop. This episode was reported by DIY girl Julie Sabatier. Sabatier produced a different version of this story as part of the PRX STEM Story Project, which ran on her show Destination DIY. 99% Invisible is distributed by PRX.

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