So after reading a fascinating account on what its like to use NASA’s Extravehicular Mobility Unit (EMU) in the Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory (NBL) I thought I’d compare the EMU to other manned spacesuits. Mainly it started as me wanting to satisfy my curiosity on the subject so why not post it all here?
Now, there are only three nations that have put humans into orbit. Russia, The United States, and China. There are many types of spacesuits though, but for the sake of simplicity I’m only going to focus on the EVA kind that are in use today. EVA stands for extra-vehicular activity if you aren’t aware. I like that term better considering you don’t really use your feet too much during EVA’s and even on the moon there isn’t any walking.
So I’m not going to go over the technical details of each space suit. Just basically going to compare the specs to get a good idea of how they stack up. It should be noted though that the EMU is generally more maneuverable due to lower pressure in the suit and because the gloves are custom built for each astronaut.
Which basically means an astronaut can get more done due to less fatigue and the ability to work with various tools easier. Also just to make things clear below life support is mission life support, not total life support. As you spend a bit of time in the airlock pre-breathing so you don’t get the bends.
W = Weight
LS = Life Support
BS = Backup Life Support
Time = The longest each suit was used to date. For all three they are also the longest EVA’s for each nation. The United States holds the all time record listed below that was set during STS-102. To put those times into further prospective the longest single EVA on the moon was 7 hours, 36 minutes. That was during Apollo 17 using the famous Apollo program suit.
EMU Orlan Feitian
W: 275 lb (124.7 kg) 265 lb (120 kg) 264 lb (120 kg)
LS: 8 Hours 8 Hours, 30 minutes 4 Hours
BS: 30 minutes 30 minutes
Time: 8 hours, 56 minutes 7 hours, 29 minutes 22 minutes
Anyway, as you can see the EMU is far more capable of the three. Though it should be noted that comes at a cost of 12 million a piece, while the other two cost at least 4 million a piece. Plus there are other considerations. The Russian & Chinese spacesuits aren’t brought back to earth due to how cramp the decent module is of the Soyuz and Shenzhou spacecraft. So they’re usually allowed to burn up in the service module/progress spacecraft or stored aboard station. Though, in a few cases the cosmonauts at least have just pushed out the old suit to let it float away and burn up while wearing the new suits.