To that end on Wednesday, Boeing for the first time publicly unveiled a crucial new piece of its Starliner system: A spacesuit to protect the next generation of astronauts as they launch toward the International Space Station, and eventually more exotic destinations like an asteroid or even Mars.
Former NASA astronaut Chris Ferguson tries on the "Boeing Blue" spacesuit, a private suit for astronauts flying on Boeing's new CST-100 Starliner space capsule.
According to NASA, the new suit also has a few other tricks, including a venting system that allows water vapor to pass through while retaining air pressure, making it cooler to wear.
The suit is also created to keep the astronaut cooler by emitting water vapour, and with touchscreen-friendly gloves they will be to interact with the capsule's tablets while the boots are breathable and slip resistant. Looking at the spacesuits the Space Shuttle crew used for launch and re-entry, for example, reveals something like a onesie tailored out of a melted traffic cone.
The familiar visor on an astronaut's spacesuit that prevents them from the blinding and irradiating sunlight is now made from polycarbonate to give astronauts aboard the Starliner better peripheral vision throughout their ride to and from space. "It is a lot lighter, more form-fitting and it's simpler, which is always a good thing". SpaceX is working on its Dragon spacecraft while Boeing is developing and testing its CST-100 Starliner spacecraft. Both vehicles should start flying crewed missions in the next year or two, NASA officials have said. The suits are not designed for spacewalks; the large, bulky "extravehicular mobility units" that astronauts use for this latter goal are already aboard the ISS. "You need it to be effective if it is needed".
The Starliner spacesuits will also only come in "Boeing Blue".
When we think of spacesuits, despite the sliver of the Mercury project or the bright orange used for Space Shuttle flights, we tend to think of white. In fact, Boeing says the suits weigh around 12 lbs (5.4kg)-about 40% lighter than previous suits.