Bill Elkins is a pioneer of space suit design. He first entered the field in 1957, making "restraint couches" for astronauts. (And no, those aren't BDSM devices.) Air & Space spoke with Elkins, who is now 80 and still involved in R&D. From Air & Space:
Air & Space: How did the first astronaut restraint systems compare to jet pilot systems already in use?"Space Suits Past and Future"
Elkins: A jet pilot restraint system has a hard backpan and seat. It mainly is trying to contain the pilot in the seat, in a sitting position. In an astronaut couch you’re lying on your back. [In the late 1950s] they were planning a cast, form-fitting, backpan restraint couch for the astronauts. But in tests at high G it was causing substernal pain, where the sternum of the occupant would compress into the chest. I designed a sophisticated hammock supported by a tubular steel frame. It left your body in a more normal, natural form at high G.
A&S: What’s the biggest challenge in designing an effective space suit?
Elkins: Well, a big one is mobility, specifically the joints. If you look at the Apollo [suit] joints, the farther you bent them, the more effort it took and the harder it was to hold that position. Those suits were spring loaded to come back to the neutral position. So it took a constant force to keep them out of neutral, and that was very fatiguing. But when you move a constant volume joint to a new position, no further force is needed. When I left Litton and went to AiResearch, I invented the toroidal joint. Toroids maintain constant volume so long as the centerline remains constant. At AiResearch I designed the EX-1A [suit], the first prototype suit to use toroidal joints, in 1967. It was an outstanding suit.
David Pescovitz is Boing Boing's co-editor/managing partner. He's also a research director at Institute for the Future. On Instagram, he's @pesco.