Space Cover #75: A Space Suit Precursor(?)
Well, last week Bob McLeod and Steve Durst took us back to 1957 and 1942 space covers. Let's turn the Wayback Machine down another notch and go to 1935...
This cover was among a reported 50 lb of collector mail carried by aviator Wiley Post on all four of his attempts in 1935 to make a non-stop flight from Los Angeles to New York City. Post had done some previous exploration of the stratosphere and figured he could do the nonstop flight by catching the jet stream up in the stratosphere.
However, unlike the stratospheric balloons of the 1930's, Post's airplane did not have a pressurized cabin. So Post, along with the Goodrich Co. pioneered the first pressure suit for flight at high altitudes. This suit was a part of all of Post's stratosphere flights, including these four. Twenty-six years later, a descendant of that suit would protect the cosmonauts and astronauts of the space age.
The suit, pictured above, was made of double ply rubberized parachute fabric, with pigskin gloves, rubber boots, and an aluminum helmet, all pressurized to of an atmosphere. The helmet was bolted onto the collar of the suit. The pressure suit used a liquid oxygen source, and had arm and leg joints that permitted easy operation of the airplane's controls and allowed Post to walk to and from his aircraft.
An amusing story came out of Post's first Los Angeles-to-New-York flight attempt, on February 22, 1935. Soon after leaving Los Angeles, he developed engine trouble and glided to a dead-stick landing on Muroc Dry Lake, California (now the home of Edwards AFB with its own plethora of subsequent space history). Well, at that time the dry lake was occasionally used as a bombing range by the Army, and occasionally by car hobbyists. Anyway, Post's dead-stick descent was so silent that H. E. Mertz, who was 400 yards away tinkering with his sail-powered car, didn't hear the landing. Mr. Mertz nearly died from fright when Post, in the pictured pressure suit (that looked like it was from a bad horror movie), walked up and asked for help unbolting his helmet...
Post made three more attempts, reaching Cleveland, Ohio on March 15; Lafayette, Indiana on April 14; and Wichita, Kansas on June 15, all ending prematurely due to airplane problems. Post died in a plane crash on August 15, 1935, ending his quest. These covers were then postmarked in Los Angeles five days after the crash. Today, these covers are seen fairly regularly in auctions and eBay for $25 - $50. Not bad for a 75-year-old space suit precursor cover! Or is it? Thoughts, anyone???