The astronauts who spent the past week performing space walks outside the International Space Station wore the familiar puffy white jumpsuits that nostalgia buffs innocently refer to as a "space suit." But the spacefaring hardcore know it as an EMU, or "Extravehicular Mobility Unit," and the current ones have been in service since 1984. On the ISS, however, the EMU isn't the only space fashion in town.
People tuning into ISS action will also see the Russian Orlan, a suit which has been in continuous use since 1977. Now that the Cold War is over, the two former superpowers can fight about whether it's better to outfit its astronauts in retro-70s gear, or retro-80s. Here are the dirty details about the contestants on the ISS' next top space suit.
•The EMU is of course white, and white looks great with those Reeboks that have suddenly come back into style. Score one for the EMU, which takes an early lead.
•However, the EMU is time-consuming to put on and infamously requires the Maximum Absorbency Garment (MAG), or space diaper, and we all know what prolonged wearing of one of those leads to. Potentially high humiliation factor forces us to deduct half a point from the EMU, which is still ahead by 0.5, because the Orlan has ZERO points. BUT...
• The Orlan-M model, by contrast with the EMU, is entered via a rear hatch: you just step right in and close the back door, pop your head into the helmet and head for the airlock! Unfortunately, it looks as if you're climbing inside something that runs on steam like this one (above). But what the hell, let's give the Orlan a point for ease of entry.
Orlan inches ahead by a slim half-point margin!
•Both suits are hard-soft hybrids, which means that they're easier to move in than the earliest generation of hard-shell suits. They are not, however, a significant advance over the Apollo-Soyuz designs. That will come when we start to see the next generation of skintight unpressurized suits, the snakey Hedi Slimane kind (below) that Val Kilmer and Benjamin Bratt wore in and that Tom Sizemore bulged out of in the surprisingly not-completely-sucky Red Planet. This one is a tie.
Orlan is still in the lead!
•All Russian space tech looks like hell and might get you killed at any time, but it lasts forever. Russian Space Agency design is rugged yet dangerous. Thus, the Orlan adds a point for the thrill factor.
Orlan 2.5, EMU 0.5. C'mon EMU, catch up!
•Each EMU sports $40,000 custom-made gloves. The Orlan, as one might expect, contains no bespoke elements. One point to the EMU for each glove, which means we're now tied.
Tiebreaker: You're a space tourist on the International Space Station. It's time for your $7 million space walk. You can choose between the EMU and the Orlan. Which will it be?