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Dressing for Altitude, U.S. Aviation Pressure Suits-Wiley Post to Space Shuttle

By Dennis R. Jenkins

Anybody who has watched many movies or television shows has seen them-the ubiquitous silver suits worn by pilots as they explore the unknown. They are called pressure suits, and one can trace their lineage to Wiley Post or, perhaps, a bit earlier.

There are two kinds of pressure suits: partial pressure and full pressure. David Clark, the man, once pointed out that these were not very good names, but they are the ones that stuck. In a partial-pressure suit, the counter-pressure is not as complete as in a full-pressure suit, but it is placed so that shifts in body fluids are kept within reasonable limits. On the other hand, a full-pressure suit, which is an anthropomorphic pressure vessel, creates an artificial environment for the pilot.

One type of pressure suit is not necessarily “better” than the other, and both partial pressure and full pressure suits are still in limited use around the world. Both type of suits have benefits and limitations and, by and large, pilots dislike both, even while acknowledging their necessity. For the past 60 years, they have been an indispensible part of a small fragment of the aviation world.

Although space suits, which differ from pressure suits in subtle, but important ways, have been well covered in literature, pressure suits have gone unheralded except as introductions to the space suit histories. This e-book is an attempt to correct that, and covers pressure suits from the beginning through the end of the Space Shuttle Program.

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