Technical Difficulties from on Top of the Mountain
2004-07-01
  Other uses for a space suit
I told this story to Gary Jedynak (part of the C4DSD group) about how the first working space suits were not designed for astronauts. While a noble goal, space was not a priority in the early 1950s (sputnik did not happen until 1957). What was big in 1950 was the vacuum tube, a set of metal plates and grids arranged to switch or amplify current, operating in a complete vacuum. Engineer Siegfried Hansen was tired of the time it took to seal up a tube and evacuate it before he could test it, so he came up with the idea of building an entire evacuated room and a suit for an engineer to wear that would provide air while making adjustments and trying new configurations out.
Litton commissioned a vacuum chamber large enough for a man to maneuver within. Then Hansen and colleagues designed a suit to be worn inside the chamber that mimicked the atmospheric conditions conducive to human life.

The suit, dubbed the Mark I, weighed 50 pounds and had a rigid torso of aluminum, puffy rubberized appendages, ribbed joints and a helmet as square and ungainly as a comic-book robot.

More important than its appearance was its function: Unlike previous pressure suits, it maintained constant volume and geometry, which allowed the occupant to breathe inside the vacuum and move with enough dexterity to handle a screwdriver or power drill.

While too heavy and rigid for the first space missions, this design was the forerunner of the modern EVA hard suit.

[sources]
Los Angeles Times
short IEEE obit

 
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