Current NASA space suits have their drawbacks. They take forever to put on, they fight your every movement, and if you tear it you die hideously in about 90 seconds.
The only thing that allows an astronaut to bend their limbs at all is the magic of constant volume joints. These are why most pictures of space suits look like the Michelin Man (i.e., like a stack of donuts).
Taking a typical over-engineering approach, NASA has been looking into armored suits. These suits try to fix the tearing problem at the expense of making the first two problems much worse. True, hard suits do solve the depressurization problem, but at such a cost.
The gloves are especially a problem. Back in the 1950's it was unclear if space suit gloves were even possible. You need to make the various protective layers thin enough to be able to fit between adjacent fingers. And with miniature constant volume cuffs at each finger joint. Some suit designers took a tip from deep sea diving suits and postulated mechanical pincers instead of gloves.
But as we know NASA did manage to design actual space suit gloves. However, they do not work very well. Almost every single NASA astronaut who has performed EVA has complaints about the difficulty of doing any fine work while wearing those gloves.
An innovative alternative approach is the Mechanical Counter Pressure (MCP) Suit. Instead of trying to hold your body intact with air pressure, it holds it in with spandex. It sounds crazy but it just might be crazy enough to work.
A skin-tight suit of high tech cloth exerts pressure over the rocketeer's body to provide pressure. A bubble helmet with oxygen supply allows one to breathe. Open pores in the suit actually allow the body to be cooled by perspiration. Tears will cause bruising to the skin, but are not as lethal as they are on a conventional suit. The suit can be quickly put on. They do not interfere as much with movement (+20% energy expenditure, compared with +400% for a NASA suit). And you can store them by folding them up and putting them inside the bubble helmet.
They do need some care in design, though. Any concave areas on the body that the suit does not hug will bulge out under internal body pressure until it fills the void (i.e., your armpits will become armhills). Putty or fluid filled bladders will be needed to prevent this. Care must be taken around those nether regions, the small of the back, and in certain locations of the female chest.
And upon entering vacuum, one will have an instant attack of dire flatulence. Don't be polite, let it out right away or you may damage your intestines.
There may be a length of tubing added along the seams of the arms, legs, and torso. The suit will be relaxed for easy dressing, then the tubing will be pressurized to put tension on the fabric (This was used in the g-suits worn by early jet pilots). The tubing will automatically pressurize when the helmet is put on and pressured up. A more advanced design uses a strip of "shape metal alloy'. An applied voltage can toggle the metal strip between expanded and contracted.
There is some discussion of space suit design here.
In The Millennial Project Savage suggests that light tungsten armor plates be worn over the suit to give some anti-radiation protection (this would only be needed in high radiation areas, like the Van Allen belts). A minimal version of the suit can be developed for everyday wear inside a spacecraft. In cases of emergency air pressure loss, all you'd need is an oxygen mask and earplugs to survive for hours (This was used in Jerry Pournelle's "Tinker". The suit was worn like long johns under a coverall. The coverall is due to the fact that the suit is about as modest as wearing a coat of paint.). If you want to go to extremes, a full MPC suit could carry six litres of Spirulina culture with support equipment, creating a closed life support system.
The helmet will have an outer layer of five millimeters of high density lead crystal. Inside will be two layers of dense borosilicate glass sandwiched between two layers of Lexan. The middle layer of Lexan will add strength and prevent shattering, the inner will act as a reserve helmet. The outer surface will be gold anodized to block glare, ultraviolet, and infra-red. There may be a nested set of telescoping curved armor plates that can be deployed for further protection.
Some SF novels have a space helmets equipped with a tiny airlock near the mouth, called a "chow-lock." It is used to allow the astronaut to eat and drink without venting the helmet's air to the vacuum of space. I am uncertain how practical this concept is, or how idiot proof it can be made.
The part of the suit that will cause designers the most headaches is the "neck dam". This goes around the neck, and tries to keep and air-tight seal. Otherwise the helmet shoots off like a champagne cork and all the air in the helmet will spray out. I personally would be in favor of straps that go from the neck dam and loop around ones arm around the armpits, but I'm no expert.
It also has to be comfortable to wear, and help in controlling the humidity inside the helmet (so it doesn't fog up). Another important part is the radio communication unit (see below), since the lack of air in space prevents the sound of your voice from reaching anybody. The old tagline to the first ALIEN movie was "In Space No One Can Hear You Scream". Other items might include windshield wipers (inside for condensation, outside for dust), a build-in set of binoculars, headlights for shadowed areas, and a mirrored sun-visor to prevent sunlight from burning out your retinas.
"Planetary suits" are used when there is an atmosphere, but it isn't breathable. They have a slightly different design from space suits.
It will also be useful to supplement one's supply of space suits with emergency life support balls. These are basically bare essential spherical suits with no arms, legs, or heads for use by people who are injured or untrained in suit operations. When a passenger liner has a problem, the crew members will stuff the passengers into these balls, zip them up, and tow them to safety. In this case, one would be wise to use balls that cannot be opened from the inside. Passengers can do remarkably silly things at the worst possible moment. And even a person highly skilled in space suits can be a problem if they are unconscious and suffering from a broken arm. It will be much quicker to slip them into a ball instead of trying to suit them up.
While wearing a space suit in vacuum, the iron-clad rule is The Buddy System. There are many mishaps that are trivial if you have a companion but fatal if you don't. Imagine that your suit springs a slow leak on your back just where you can't reach it with a repair patch. Oops.
In cases of emergency, two space suited people can "cross-connect" their oxygen supplies. This is generally done when one of them runs out of breathable gas, the other shares their oxygen until they get to shelter.
For strict safely, static lines or safety lines are mandatory. The spacecraft should have plenty of small steel rings bolted at regular intervals over the hull for spacemen to attach their safety lines to. Without a static line, a spaceman who manages to get both magnetic boots separated from the hull will suddenly find themself on a slow impromptu tour of the solar system. If their widows are real lucky the bodies might actually be recovered for burial.
Another useful item is a "line throwing gun". This allows one to shoot a safety line from one spacecraft to another. The line will have to be made of special materials, since most terrestrial ropes and cables will turn glass-like and shatter in vacuum.
Things get real nasty if the ship is a tumbling pigeon or otherwise rotates to provide artificial gravity. The poor EVA spacemen have to swing from hand-hold to hand-hold like trapezes artists. From their viewpoint, the spacecraft is overhead and below is a long fall to infinity. For details read Heinlein's short story "Ordeal in Space".
They may also need a "beeper". This is a low powered radar the size and shape of flashlight, used to locate small objects nearby (like that zero-recoil wrench you let go of "just for a minute"). You wave it around until is starts beeping (heard over your suit radio). As you approach the object the beep rate increases.
Astronauts also have to watch what they say. There is no air in space, so unless you are touching helmets together, you cannot talk with others without a radio. But while speaking on Terra means your voice becomes fainter with distance, over a radio it will be loud and clear out to the limit of the radio's range. This means cursing under your breath or muttering behind somebody's back will not work. There might be several channels to allow a bit of privacy, or if several conversations are going on at once.
Some SF novels suggest that for privacy, two space suited people might turn off their raidos, and touch helmets. The theory is that the sound of the conversation will be conducted through the contact between helmets. However, others maintain that the area of contact will be so small (since the helmets are basically spherical) that no audible sound will manage to pass. In Poul Anderson's TAU ZERO, he says that instead astronauts will learn how to read lips.
Many SF novels have magnetized space boots to allow the rocketeers to adhere to the hull, but magnets do not work very well on hulls composed of titanium, aluminum, or magnesium. If one does have a ferromagnetic hull, it might be best to have magnets just in the boot toes but not the heels, to facilitate walking. These might be used inside the spacecraft's lifesystem, if you think those velcro footies used by the stewardess in 2001 are just too unmanly for words.
Once people are suited up, it does become hard to tell who is who. In Destination Moon, there were four spacemen, and each had a uniquely colored suit. Kind of like colored tooth-brushes. But this won't work if you have more than a few spacemen, er, spacepeople. The person's name stenciled in large letter across the front and back is a possibility.
In Piers Anthony's The Kirlian Quest, he notes that this problem has occurred before: knights in armor are similarly anonymous. The solution is coat of arms and heraldry. When a proposed heraldic "device" (coat of arms) is submitted to the college of heralds, it is compared with all existing devices. The new device must have at least one major and one minor point of visual difference from those already registered. Otherwise it would be too easy to confuse the two devices in the heat of battle. Mistaking a foe for a friend could be fatal.
In Larry Niven's Protector, the Belters of the asteroid belt spend most of their lives inside their space suit. They have a tendency to paint their suits in extravagant colors. One of the characters had Salvador Dali's Madonna of Port Lligat on the front of their suit. In an interesting psychological quirk, Belters also tend to be nudists when in a pressurized environment.
As one adds more gadgets and attachments to a space suit, it gradually morphs into a tiny spaceship. It starts with spring-loaded broomsticks and picks up speed with the addition of tiny attitude jets and maneuvering rockets. As a parallel development, a rocket engine with a skeletal frame to hold astronauts is the first "space taxi". When a space suit is massive enough that one climbs into it instead of putting it on like clothing, equipped with mechanical arms and waldoes, you suddenly have a space pod. Then if the pod grows to the size of a baby spaceship, but with massive over-sized engines, you finally have a space tug.
A broomstick is a spring loaded gizmo used by astronauts to launch themselves from place to place, and to bring themselves to a stop upon arrival.
While engaging in extra-vehicular activity, our space-suited rocketeers may use a "broomstick", or some kind of small jets (a Manned Maneuvering Unit or MMU). NASA has also developed a nitrogen-gas propelled unit that fits on the backpack, called the Simplified Aid for Extravehicular Activity Rescue (SAFER). The SAFER can help an astronaut return to the shuttle or station in the event that they gets separated from the spacecraft. SAFER has a deltaV capacity of 3 m/s.
Many early designs of spacesuits for use in free fall were lacking legs. This simplifies the design. This gradually becomes a hard suit which allows an astronaut to work in a pressurized environment and so avoid the bends.
A space taxi is a short ranged orbit to orbit vehicle used to carry astronauts and small amounts of cargo. At its simplest, it is a frame that astronauts attach themselves to, with a rocket engine at one end. More complicated taxis have an enclosed hull which may or may not be pressurized. Do keep in mind that the direction of "down" will appear to be in the same direction the rocket exhaust shoots.
|Orion Space Taxi|
|Specific Impulse||450 s|
|Exhaust Velocity||4,500 m/s|
|Wet Mass||1,584 kg|
|Dry Mass||759 kg|
|Payload||136 kg (2 people)|
|Diameter||1 m wide|
In this document about Orion drive spacecraft, they mention a space taxi. It carries two crew members, has a hardware mass of 623 kilograms, and a propellant mass of 825 kilograms. As near as I can measure, it can be approximated as a cylinder with a height of two meters and a radius of 0.5 meters, with a hemisphere of radius 0.5 meters on each end.
This gives it an internal volume of 2 m3. Assuming it has chemical propulsion, the propellant would take up about 0.8 cubic meters, and the two crew would take up 0.14 cubic meters. Carrying two crew, it would have a mass ratio of about 2, and thus a deltaV of about 3,120 m/s.
This is an emergency lunar escape vehicle concept, in case an Apollo Lunar Module crashed upon landing. It was designed to be assembled from various parts canibalized from the wreck. Note that in the two-man version, the pilot gets an acceleration chair, but the poor second astronaut is slung under the chair by straps. You can read more about this here, here, and here (PDF files).
A space pod is a small pressurized vehicle with one or more waldoes or mechanical arms. They are often used for space construction and maintenance. In the movie 2001 A Space Odyssey, they were referred to as "EVA pods." In Wernher von Braun and Disney's Man In Space series, they were called "bottle suits." They are also known as "closed-cabin cherry picker", "manned autonomous work system", and the ever popular "man-in-a-can." One of their main advantages over a soft space suit is that they solve the depressurization problem.
A space tug is a tiny spacecraft with over-sized engines and some means of grappling another spacecraft. If the tug pushes its cargo,it will have a massive push plate on its bow, with a core of structural members to transmit the thrust of its engines to the push plate. If the tug pulls its cargo, it will have cables and winches on its stern, and the engines will be vectored to fire backwards at an angle so it does not torch the ship it is dragging. The engines will suffer a reduction thrust penality proportional to the cosine of the engine angle.
Note that if nuclear propulsion spacecraft are involved, the tugs and the spacecraft will generally be designed to dock bow to bow. Otherwise you will be exposing the other ship to the radiation from your engine.
Space tug concept by Frank Tinsley. Tug has grapples and grippers on its stern. The four square plates around its waist are ion drive units (The crewman's hatch is unfortunately placed right in the line of fire of one of the ion drives).
The petals near the bow are heat radiators. Sadly the radiators are spaced too closely. In reality one would want two radiators at 180° or at the most four radiators at 90°. The arrangement shown would have the heat from one radiator impinging on its neighbors.
And at the tip of the pointed prow would be the tiny nuclear reactor. It would be nice to include a small shadow shield to protect the crew from nuclear radiation.
Details are sparse on this design. Click on blueprints for larger image. Blueprint is written in Italian but it has been translated for the website by Alberto Bursi. The engines are around the waist, on swivels. The designers also appear to have a flippant attitude towards maintaining a sense of up and down. If the pilot turns his head he will see his copilot's feet.
The diagram is from this PDF file. Annoyingly it included lots of facts and figures about the tug, then said and here is a diagram of a totally unrelated Boeing concept that we will not give you any data for. I do like the slanted windows, allowing the crew to view the docking port.
And in Clarke's "The Haunted Spacesuit" aka "Who's There?" they chant "FORB" for Fuel, Oxygen, Radio, Batteries.