posted 02-16-2008 07:43 PM
At any given time, there are three U.S. suits on the space station. They are not crew member specific, but can be resized to fit (some crew members may have custom gloves or may wear the gloves sized for similarly proportioned astronauts).
So long as the shuttle is still flying, the suits are rotated, serviced on the ground and re-launched. When the shuttle stops flying, we will lose the capability to return them.
Last June, I wrote an article about the fate of the space shuttle EMUs (of which there have been a total of 16* in program history): Historic shuttle spacesuits to meet fiery end.
* Counting suits is a bit of a misnomer because a complete suit really doesn't exist as a unit. Different components are mixed and matched, thus the number 16 refers to the most limited of the parts, the life support backpack.
(Of course, the above is limited to U.S. spacesuits. Russian Orlans are also not crew member specific. They are launched on Soyuz or Progress spacecraft and then at the end of their life cycle, allowed to burn up with other refuse in returning Progress vehicles. Only one Orlan spacesuit has ever been returned to Earth, aboard the space shuttle, for study.)