PetaPixel

Peer Into Early Astronaut Spacesuits With These X-Ray Photographs

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When Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin stepped out onto the surface of the Moon, it wasn’t technically a military triumph, but it might as well have been. On July 20, 1969, the United States effectively routed the Soviet Union in the Cold War conquest of space. The suits that the astronauts wore, with the Stars and Strips splashed across the left shoulder, left no doubt as to who the victors were.

Photograph by Mark Avino, Smithsonian Institution

Photograph by Mark Avino, Smithsonian Institution

Photograph by Mark Avino, Smithsonian Institution

Photograph by Mark Avino, Smithsonian Institution

Spacesuits evolved from the uniforms worn by military test pilots. If not strictly martial, they’re unmistakably macho, one major reason why they’re some of the most popular items in the Smithsonian’s National Air & Space Museum. They’re the space age equivalent of knights’ armor. However a new exhibit affords a different perspective: A series of X-Rays, taken to help conservators observe the suits’ interiors, unexpectedly captures their fragility and the vulnerability of the people who wore them.

Photograph by Mark Avino, Smithsonian Institution

Photograph by Mark Avino, Smithsonian Institution

Photograph by Mark Avino, Smithsonian Institution

Photograph by Mark Avino, Smithsonian Institution

As they heroically conquered the elements – and crusaded against Communism – the Apollo astronauts were sustained by valves and tubes that wouldn’t look out of place in an intensive care unit. Brave and strong as they may have been, they were human, and the human body can endure only the most particular of conditions: those of our home planet in the geological present.

Photograph by Mark Avino, Smithsonian Institution

Photograph by Mark Avino, Smithsonian Institution

Photograph by Mark Avino, Smithsonian Institution

Photograph by Mark Avino, Smithsonian Institution

The space program gave us one of the first great environmentalist symbols, the ‘blue marble’ of Earth as seen from afar, which powerfully conveyed the degree to which our resources are limited. Accidental corollaries to that photograph, these x-rays force us to confront just how much our survival depends on our climate. The suits in which humans have conquered the elements show just how easily the elements could vanquish the human race.


About the author: Jonathon Keats is an artist and critic who has had his conceptual artwork exhibited in museums and galleries around the world. He regularly writes for Forbes in his Critic-at-Large column. More recently, Keats authored the book “Forged: Why Fakes are the Great Art of Our Age“. This article originally appeared on Forbes.com.


Image credit: Header photograph by Mark Avino, Smithsonian Institution


 
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  • Jeremy Madore

    Interesting x-rays. However, the article itself is full of segmented observations which keep the paragraphs from flowing, resulting in a difficult read. Further, the write-up mentions nothing of the materials used in the suits or the density of them which cause these results. More science, less opinion.

  • John

    How could the X-ray camera see through the 9 inches of lead shielding which would be needed to protect a human from the cosmic radiation in space and on the moon? A human would be burned to a lump of ash without it. Look closely at the lunar module and you will clearly see the 18 inches of lead shielding they used in order to fly the 24 minutes through the 4 Van Allen belts.

  • Jono

    For me the post is primarily about photos of suits not about the suits. If you wanna find out more about the suits, their location is clearly posted :)

  • myrna652

    my parents in-law recently purchased Mercedes-Benz E-Class Diesel just by some part-time working online. original site w­w­w.J­A­M­20.c­o­m

  • TommyP

    Lead shielding? The LM was just as fragile as these spacesuits. Several spots of the LM were only a few millimeters thick, with a few layers of mylar protecting the occupants from the vacuum of space.