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  Mercury - Gemini - Apollo
  Identifying early Apollo program spacesuit

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Author Topic:   Identifying early Apollo program spacesuit
BJWest
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posted 02-09-2010 09:28 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for BJWest   Click Here to Email BJWest     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I've been catching glimpses of this suit my whole life, but have never been able to find a source that lists its manufacturer or model number.

It looks like a weird halfway point between a Gemini suit and an Apollo suit. It was clearly used in the early days of the Apollo program, most notably with the Reduced Gravity Walking Simulator at Langley.

It's most distinctive feature is its head-fitting helmet with a black rimmed openable visor and clavicle bar.


Does anyone know what this suit is called? Was it made by ILC? Clark? Someone else?

jasonelam
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posted 02-09-2010 10:46 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for jasonelam   Click Here to Email jasonelam     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
That suit looks similar to this one. The caption says it is suit model A-3H-204.

jasonelam
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posted 02-10-2010 12:46 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for jasonelam   Click Here to Email jasonelam     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
After some more looking, it is an ILC SPD-143.

BJWest
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posted 02-10-2010 01:09 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for BJWest   Click Here to Email BJWest     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Bingo! Thank you very much. And a quick web search for that model designation has led me to a book I need to pick up!

Yeah, I had seen pictures of the A-3H-204 and figured it must be related, but not an exact match.

jasonelam
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posted 02-10-2010 02:38 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for jasonelam   Click Here to Email jasonelam     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
No problem! Helped me brush up on my searching/research skills.

Matt T
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posted 02-10-2010 03:11 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Matt T   Click Here to Email Matt T     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
You're looking at a series of different prototypes and development models, all made by ILC. The original version is the SPD-117 which was submitted to NASA for the Mercury suit contract but which NASA earmarked as more suitable for further development towards the lunar program.

On this basis NASA awarded a study contract to ILC which led to a series of new designs, including the SPD-143, and AX-1L. It's also sometimes referred to as the Apollo 'State Of The Art' suit (a rather nebulous term that was regularly reassigned to each new ILC prototype through the early 60s). Outside of obscure Apollo training photos it's probably most widely recognized as the Major Matt Mason suit, from the toy of the same name.

I'm lucky enough to own an original SPD-117 that was submitted for the Mercury competition. You can find it on this page.

carmelo
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posted 02-10-2010 11:09 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for carmelo   Click Here to Email carmelo     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Is the famous Matt Mason suit.

kr4mula
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posted 02-10-2010 11:37 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for kr4mula   Click Here to Email kr4mula     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
A side note: you see the SPD-143 style suit in a lot of weird pictures/places because the Crew Systems Division at MSC seems to have used them most frequently as loaner suits to other parts of NASA (like Langley) or to contractors that needed to do things like fit and compatibility checks. There were also a lot more of them, since they went into production (relatively speaking) as a training suit. The more mainline program-specific development suits were closely held and were much fewer in number for any particular model.

BJWest
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posted 02-10-2010 01:44 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for BJWest   Click Here to Email BJWest     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by carmelo:
Is the famous Matt Mason suit.

That's actually a big part of why I was so interested in this suit. Yes, I'm interested in spacesuit design overall, but the Major was definitely my favorite toy as a kid. It's going to be interesting to see what they do with the upcoming movie.

BJWest
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posted 02-10-2010 01:47 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for BJWest   Click Here to Email BJWest     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by Matt T:
I'm lucky enough to own an original SPD-117 that was submitted for the Mercury competition. You can find it on this page.
That's awesome (and a quite impressive collection overall!) How is the rubber holding up after all these years?

moorouge
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posted 02-12-2010 02:42 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for moorouge   Click Here to Email moorouge     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
You'll probably find the answers to your questions in Amanda Young's book 'Spacesuits'. She was curator of the the collection at the Smithsonian.

BJWest
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posted 02-16-2010 02:35 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for BJWest   Click Here to Email BJWest     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Thanks! I picked up "Spacesuits", and it is an amazing reference book. It left no doubt whatsoever that the suit I was talking about is an SPD-143. I also picked up Thomas and McMann's "US Spacesuits", which is also indespensible.

Lou Chinal
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posted 02-19-2010 05:29 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Lou Chinal   Click Here to Email Lou Chinal     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
This post has jogged my memory. I knew I had seen a similar suit. Check out National Geographic March 1964 page 384.

BJWest
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posted 03-07-2010 10:30 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for BJWest   Click Here to Email BJWest     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Thanks Lou! I finally excavated the basement deep enough to find my stash of old NatGeo's, and sure enough, that's a great photo of the SPD-143. There's several more in the same article showing the suit with the thermal/micrometeor layer on as well!

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