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SpaceX ready to begin training astronauts for first private spacewalk

Two members of the Polaris Program say that SpaceX could begin training private astronauts for the first private spacewalk in spaceflight history as early as May or June 2022. Revealed earlier this year the Polaris Program is a sort of hybridization of orbital spaceflight tourism and technology development and has one primary goal to rapidly advance human spaceflight capabilities. Created in partnership with SpaceX by billionaire and Shift4 Payments founder Jared Isaacman who also funded and flew on SpaceXs first private Crew Dragon launch Polaris aims to pick up where Inspiration4 left off last year. While it will still be affiliated with and seek to help St. Jude Childrens Research Hospital the Polaris Program will focus on the development of several crucial technologies that SpaceX will need to accomplish its ultimate goal of spreading humanity throughout our solar system. The fourperson crew for the Polaris Dawn mission will begin training this month for a flight on a Dragon spacecraft set to include the first commercial spacewalk and the debut of SpaceXs extravehicular spacesuit.

One of those crucial technologies is a cheap reliable and easytouse spacesuit that will allow future SpaceX astronauts to work outside of the safety of their spacecraft in the vacuum of space and one day walk on the surfaces of other planets and moons. For Crew Dragon SpaceX has already developed an intravehicular activity or IVA pressure suit that all Dragon astronauts must wear during missioncritical maneuvers. In the event of capsule depressurization the suits would be able to keep Dragon astronauts alive inside the capsule for at least a few days supplying them with clean air and maintaining enough pressure to avoid altitude sickness or worse.
However because IVA suits generally prioritize unpressurized mobility the astronauts inside them can do very little when the suits are fully pressurized. At sea level every person on Earth is subjected to standard atmospheric pressure which amounts to about 101 kilopascals or 14.5 pounds per square inch. In a spacesuit the suit itself must maintain a pocket of air at similar pressures ultimately meaning that the outer skin of a suit must resist the same force. To put that into context even operating at the absolute minimum pressures that humans can realistically tolerate and use 46 psi simply moving ones arm in an IVA suit could require hundreds of pounds or kilograms of force.

Even in NASAs aging extravehicular activity EVA spacesuits which feature mechanical joints and other upgrades meant to make movement and life easier inside them spacewalks are one of the most brutal and exhausting physical activities conceivable requiring extraordinary levels of nearconstant exertion for hours on end. According to comments made to Spaceflight Now by Jared Isaacman and by pilot Scott Poteet in an interview covered by AmericaSpace SpaceXs first EVA suit will be quite basic. To some extent they will be heavily modified versions of SpaceXs existing IVA suit design but with much more advanced thermal management an improved helmet/visor and – most importantly – the addition of a number of mechanized joints.

As was the case with early NASA EVA suits developed in the 1960s SpaceXs first EVA suits will receive consumables power and communications through cables tethers that connect to Dragons life support. It will take SpaceX some time to develop a miniaturized portable life support system as safe and capable as the packs used on NASAs EVA suits. A tethered EVA suit will still allow SpaceX or private astronauts to perform EVAs and work on or inspect the exterior of their Crew Dragon or Starship spacecraft – capabilities that could save lives in certain emergency scenarios. SpaceXs first priority then will be to make sure that the basics work well in space and that the suits actually allow astronauts to perform tasks that require good finger and limb dexterity without immediately exhausting themselves.
Youre adding lots of redundancies in the suit that dont exist today since its more last line of defense Isaacman said referring to the differences between SpaceXs current suit and the new extravehicular spacesuit. You have a new visor new seals then mobility joints everywhere for increased mobility and dexterity in the fingers and such. I think visually it will be more along the lines of what it currently looks like but very much like a new suit.

The first of up to three Polaris missions – Polaris Dawn – is currently scheduled to launch as early as November 2022. All four private astronauts – made up of two Polaris employees and two SpaceX employees – will wear the new EVA suits in place of their usual IVA suits while only two members of the crew will ultimately attempt to exit the capsule and perform a single EVA that could last roughly 3090 minutes. To do so the entire Dragon will be depressurized and one of two hatches opened will be opened while the the other two EVAsuited astronauts will simply remain in their seats. Regardless of the outcome it will be the first private spacewalk in the history of spaceflight. The astronauts training to prepare for Polaris Dawn will focus heavily on the EVA offering either the two chosen crew members or all four candidates an opportunity to experience deepsea diving and test EVA suits both underwater and inside a Dragon capsule simulator.

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