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Chapter 18: “The Clothes Make the Man…!”
June 2006

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In Chapter 16 we discussed how NASA is using specialized laser technology to design and build better spacesuits for astronauts. Well, on a recent trip to Star City, Russia, it was time for me to try on some of my spacesuits...Russian style!

Clayton Anderson tries on a Russian Sokol suitImage at right: Astronaut Clayton Anderson tries on a Russian Sokol suit as he trains for an upcoming station mission. Credit: NASA

Living on the International Space Station (ISS), we must be trained to travel back to earth on the Russian Soyuz spacecraft. The Soyuz serves as our “lifeboat” in the event of an emergency on ISS. However, traveling to earth is not as simple as it may seem. If the capsule has a leak or “depressurization” and loses all of its air, we rely on our Сокол spacesuits (So-kol, or “Falcon”) which can be pressurized and provide us oxygen, allowing us to survive the 2-hour trip home. Furthermore, we must be able to survive once we land and exit the capsule. Normally, we target our landing site, but the Russian Federation is a huge place. Its topography ranges from deserts to swamps to mountains to lakes to prairies to tundra and everything in between. If our trajectory goes awry, we must carry the proper clothing to allow us to deal with a landing anywhere!

We start with the Сокол spacesuit. Mostly white, with blue trim (and my personal name tag in both Russian and English!), it is our first line of protection. If we land in water and need to exit quickly, we jump from the Soyuz, in the suit, with water wings in tow. If we land in the tundra, we must remove our Сокол while inside the capsule and don winter survival gear: long (cotton) underwear, an itchy wool flight suit (coveralls, sweater, jacket and cap) and a down-like material snow suit complete with matching boots, gloves and hood. On a really bad day where we end up in freezing water, we add the burnt orange форель suit (Fo-rel, Russian for “trout”…a bit of irony here, yes?!?) over the top of all the other gear! The one piece rubber форель with gloves and a hood seals our body and keeps water out. To survive other types of weather and terrain we add or remove some of the multiple layers to keep warm or cool depending on the conditions we encounter when we exit the capsule. Fortunately for us, Russian search and rescue forces guarantee a pickup within 48 hours.

Clayton Anderson tries on a Russian Forel suitImage at right: Astronaut Clayton Anderson tries on a Russian Forel suit as part of winter survival training. Credit: NASA

Fit-checking the gear took over 4 hours. In addition to just trying it on for fit, I had to don my Сокол suit and sit (lay) in my custom-made Soyuz seat liner or ложеман (low-zhe-mon…see Chapter 7). After the engineers checked the fit of my suit they checked my position within the liner to see if I had any pressure points or hot spots. Next they pressurized the suit and had me sit, curled up in the fetal position (as if during re-entry), for two hours (the time it takes to re-enter and land)! I am near the Soyuz size limit standards and at about 100 minutes, it was becoming quite uncomfortable! I think this was another of my unofficial “survival” tests…kind of like being a freshman in college!

With that behind me, it was time to try on the rest of my Soyuz survival gear. First the wool flight suit...sweater, coveralls, jacket and hat. Next we added the down-filled “bunny suit.” Finally, it was time to check the fit of the форель. Layer upon layer, I looked like an oversized nectarine!

As the fit check ended we prepped for the return to Star City. I took one last glance at the table, lined with all of my gear. I saw my Сокол suit with my name tag…right next to my gloves, emblazoned with my initials, “КА.” My time is coming! Прикрасный (pre-kras-nee…beautiful)!