four astronauts wearing evas

What are the different types of astronaut suits?

Last Updated: March 27, 2024

If you are an avid follower of space exploration, you have likely seen the different types of astronaut suits that are worn by astronauts during their missions or during their public appearances. However, you may not know the difference between the various types of suits or what they are used for.

There are two main types of astronaut suits: the Extravehicular Activities (EVA), and the Advanced Crew Escape Suit (ACES). They come in different sizes, shapes, colors and features. In this article, we will discuss the different types of suits worn by NASA astronauts

The Extravehicular Activities (EVA) Spacesuit

Whenever an astronaut is scheduled for a spacewalk, or an Extravehicular Activity (EVA), they suit up in an EVA spacesuit. This type of suit is also known as an extravehicular mobility unit or EMU. The suit is white, bulky, and has several layers that help protect the astronaut from the harsh environment of space including space radiation and micrometeoroids. These suits are designed to keep the astronaut alive and comfortable for a minimum of six hours. In addition, it is the most expensive type of astronaut spacesuit to manufacture.

During their low-gravity training sessions, astronauts often wear those EVA spacesuits whilst conducting exercises in swimming pools, to replicate the microgravity conditions they will experience during a spacewalk. They learn how to move and work whilst wearing them. They also get to know how to troubleshoot any problems that may occur while they are wearing the suit.

They are primarily used for spacewalks on the outside of the International Space Station, as well as future moonwalks once the Artemis mission is in full swing. It will not be surprising if the EMU suits undergo some changes or upgrades in the near future as NASA looks to venture further out into the solar system (Mars). Nasa has turned to the private sector for help in redesigning the suit (renamed Exploration Extravehicular Mobility Unit, aka “xEMU”) for the Artemis missions.

Notable features

The suit is also equipped with a life support system, radio communications, and a tether that keeps the astronaut connected to the space station. The suit comes with a rather heavy backpack (319 lb, or 145 kg) containing the primary and secondary oxygen tanks and the battery power for the suit’s electrical functions. It takes an astronaut about 45 minutes to fully suit up for an EVA.

astronauts wearing EVA spacesuits
Astronauts Bernard A. Harris Jr. and C. Michael Foale put on an EVA spacesuit just before their spacewalk on the ISS.

The Intravehicular Activity (IVA) Spacesuit

The Intravehicular Activity (IVA) suit is much more comfortable than the EVA spacesuit as it is not intended for use outside a vehicle or spacecraft. Its purpose is to provide astronauts with a bit more mobility inside the spacecraft as well as to provide them with some protection in the event of an accident, such as a depressurisation of the spacecraft.

These suits are often worn during launch and landing, as well as during rendezvous and docking procedures. Russian cosmonauts wear the Sokol IVA suits when onboard the Soyuz spacecraft whilst NASA astronauts wear the Advanced Crew Escape Suit (ACES) onboard the Space Shuttle.

The Advanced Crew Escape Suit (ACES), also known as the pumpkin suit, is orange in color. The reason for that is to make the wearer more visible when landing in an emergency. The orange color highly contrasts with the blue color of the ocean, making it easier for rescue teams to spot them.

Notable features

The ACES suit is equipped with an emergency breathing system, a liquid cooling system, a Headset communication system, automatic inflation parachutes, as well as an Automatic-inflation life preserver. They are designed to increase the chances of survival for the astronauts in the event of an accident.

Astronauts wearing an ACES suit also have pockets which contain the following tools: survival radio, signal mirrors, chemical lights, strobe lights, flares and knives/cutters. It is possible that the ACES suit will be replaced by the Orion Crew Survival System (OCSS) in the future. As Nasa plans on sending astronauts back to the moon, and eventually mars, it makes sense that they would develop a new and improved suit for these longer-duration missions.

astronaut putting on a ACES suit
Astronauts getting for lunch and putting on their ACES suits.

The blue flight jumpsuit

The blue flight jumpsuit is probably what most people think of when they think of an astronaut. It is a jumpsuit worn by astronauts during training sessions and public appearances. They are the standard attire for astronauts when they are not performing any specific duties that require them to wear a different type of suit. Think of them as a type of uniform or deck wear. The royal blue color is one that NASA has always used for its space suits and it is a tradition that continues to this day.

Notable features

The blue flight suit has the NASA logo on the right as well as the American flag on the left shoulder. The name of the astronaut is also embroidered on the left. The suit also has various pockets for carrying small items.

astronaut blue jumpsuit
Astronauts wearing their blue flight suits during a public appearance. Image credit: AP Photo/John Raoux

What do the different colors of the astronauts' suits mean?

The different colors of astronaut suits actually serve a purpose and are not just for show. The orange color of the ACES suit is to make the wearer more visible when landing in an emergency. The EVA suit is white because that is the color that best reflects sunlight and helps keep the astronaut cool. It’s also easier to spot an astronaut against the dark background of space if they are wearing a white suit. The royal blue color is often associated with calmness and serenity, which is probably why it was chosen as the color for the blue flight suit.

SpaceX’s starman suits

If you have been watching SpaceX’s dragon crew launches, you may have noticed that the astronauts were wearing white and black suits. Dubbed the “starman” suits, these suits are a different type of IVA suits (Intravehicular Activity). They were designed by founder Elon Musk and created by Hollywood costume designer Jose Fernandez. The black and white color scheme was chosen to be stylish and minimalistic.

Elon Musk is renowned for wanting to make space travel more accessible to the general public. And these modern suits that look like they’re straight out of a science fiction movie reflect that goal. Some of the key features include a 3D-printed helmet, touchscreen-compatible gloves, flame-resistant outer layer, and hearing protection during ascent and reentry.

NASA astronauts Shane Kimbrough and Megan McArthur, JAXA astronaut Akihiko Hoshide, and ESA astronaut Thomas Pesquet wearing the starman suit. Credit: SpaceX

Axiom Extravehicular Mobility Unit (AxEMU)

Axiom Space recently revealed the first prototype of the AxEMU during an event at Space Center Houston. Axiom Space had been chosen by NASA to develop the next-generation spacesuit for the Artemis III mission, which aims to land the first woman on the Moon.

The new suit, called the Axiom Extravehicular Mobility Unit (AxEMU), will provide advanced capabilities for space exploration while providing NASA with commercially developed human systems needed to access, live and work on and around the Moon.

The AxEMU spacesuit is designed to provide increased flexibility and greater protection to withstand the harsh environment of space, and features specialized tools to accomplish exploration needs and expand scientific opportunities.

It utilizes innovative technologies and a flexible design to enable more exploration of the lunar surface than ever before. Here are a few key differences between this suit and its predecessors: 

  • The AxEMU is easier and quicker to put on: it has a “hatch” on the back, allowing astronauts to enter the suit from behind. 
  • The torso section is the main structure and the arms and legs section are fitted with a range of mobility joints. 
  • The arms and legs part of the suit can be interchanged, allowing astronauts to obtain a more personalized fit. 
  • The new gloves and boots are designed for flexibility, durability, and insulation. 
  • The helmet bubble is attached to the rigid upper body, and a visor assembly with lights on top allows astronauts to view in shaded locations or at night on the Moon. 
  • The most exciting addition for us space fans back on Earth is that HD video cameras will be installed and transmit the astronauts’ activities on the lunar surface. This should be amazing to see, the moon in HD is definitely an upgrade compared to the footage from the Apollo missions.
  • Overall, the AxEMU is definitely an important upgrade from the spacesuits used during the Apollo era and even today’s extravehicular mobility unit (EMU) used on the ISS during spacewalks.
Axiom AxEMU spacesuit
While the spacesuit was displayed in black, the final version will be white, as it is crucial for astronauts to reflect as much sunlight as possible whilst on the lunar surface.
Tom Urbain
Space exploration has been a fascinating subject for me since a very young age. As a child, astronauts were my heroes, so it was inevitable that a part of my website would be dedicated to astronauts and their space missions.

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