Want your own spacesuit? We know a guy…
We’ve all been there: watching the astronauts get suited up for their missions beyond our world and come walking out of Kennedy’s Operations and Checkout Building (M7-355 O&C) decked out in their flight suits – and wishing it was us. While boarding a spacecraft bound for the black sky is not in the offing anytime soon, one man is working to, at least, provide you with the appropriate apparel.
There are an array of individuals who produce of all manner of space items and artifacts, replicas so precise as to (almost) fool the engineers who built the actual artifacts themselves. One of these individuals is Ryan Nagata, and his efforts could help provide those in the space community (well, those with an interest in cosplay anyway) to live out there dreams of being an astronaut.
Nagata makes some of the most accurate replica spacesuits in the world. Internationally known, Nagata’s work has appeared in feature films, on TV (on Mythbusters), and has been used in ad campaigns as well.
Nagata’s success likely stems from his attention to detail as he sews each suit by hand. Wanting to find out more about this fascinating hobby-slash-occupation, SpaceFlight Insider spoke with Nagata about his work.
SFI: Thanks for chatting with us, so you make space suits!
Nagata: “You’re most welcome – and yes I do!”
SFI: When did you start producing space suits?
Nagata: “I made my first spacesuit replica when I was 14 years old after I saw the movie Apollo 13. I really wanted an Apollo suit of my own. It wasn’t until years later (about 2013) that I decided to make more suits. I had acquired many skills over the years of working on props and costumes for film and TV, and I felt I could do a much better job. So I made a Mercury spacesuit first and then an Apollo A7L, then an A7L-B suit. I have several more suit replicas planned, but the Apollo stuff has been keeping me busy for a long time.”
SFI: How difficult are these to make and how long does it take you to produce a suit?
Nagata: “It took me several years to make all of the molds and patterns for the full Apollo EMU. There are hundreds of components that required different skills to produce (sewing, thermoforming, sculpting and casting, machining, painting, engineering, screen-printing). And I am constantly updating things when I get new information. So it’s taken me years to get to this point. But if I got an order for a suit today, I could probably complete it in about a month and a half.”
SFI: Why make spacesuits?
Nagata: “That’s a good question. I originally just wanted a suit for myself because I thought they were cool. It’s literally a tiny spacecraft you can go anywhere in and have what you need to survive (air, water, food, protection). And I honestly didn’t have a reason beyond that. But I had a teacher in film school who said ‘never underestimate the importance of just looking cool.”
“He was referring to visual language in film and giving your film a unique look without having any deeper meaning behind it. That always stuck with me, because cool things have a way of awakening something inside people, particularly young people. And I realized that making these suits and showing them around does inspire people in some way.
Even if it’s not to do something directly related to the space program, it inspires them to make something for themselves, which is a very useful skill. I have a friend who puts on an Apollo spacesuit costume and visits schools. I could see myself doing something like that in the future.”
SFI: Who, if anyone, got you started or helps you in making them?
Nagata: “In regards to the actual production of the suits, I do almost everything myself. But many people have been instrumental in getting my work out there and helping me to make the suits more accurate.
“Adam Savage commissioned me to make him an Apollo suit very early on and wore it on the last season of Mythbusters. We also did some videos together for Tested.com and so many people became familiar with my work.
“I met many people at Spacefest who have helped me with information. Private collectors with actual suit components in their collections, actual spacesuit engineers who worked on the Apollo program and at ILC have shared info with me, and some of the Apollo astronauts themselves have given me pointers. I’m working on something with astronaut Al Worden and he’s put me in touch with some folks at NASA.”
SFI: What all is involved in their production?
Nagata: “I usually start with making the hardware, which is about 30 percent of the work. All the fittings and disconnects on the suits I make are cast in resin, then painted to look like anodized aluminum using Hollywood prop techniques. I machined and anodized a full set of aluminum fittings that I used as the master to make the molds (one day, I hope to make a hyper accurate Apollo suit for myself using those parts). Then I move on to the soft goods.
“The real suits had an inner suit called the pressure garment assembly which held the pressure and had all the disconnects attached to it. Then there was an outer protective layer called the thermal micrometeoroid garment, which was made of beta cloth and many layers of various foils and materials. This is the outer layer of the suit you see. So I sew the outermost layer out of a nylon material that looks similar to beta cloth and layer several layers of batting underneath to simulate the bulk of the real suits. I also sew in some rigid structures to mimic the look of the PGA inside.
“Then I sew a liner assembly for comfort that velcros inside very much like the real suits. Some clients just want the suit itself. When someone wants the full EMU, I move on to the helmet and PLSS system. I vacuform all the various shells and visors out of plastic. Some parts I have to vacuform in sections and weld together since my machine is only so big.
“When everything is done, I like to weather the suits (unless the client requests it pristine). I find even a small amount of weathering helps sell the suits as real pieces. I learned this working in Hollywood. Stuff that’s completely clean often looks fake or toy-like. A small amount of weathering makes it look real. A large amount makes it look moon-used. I use a combination of acrylic paints and simulated lunar dust made of talc and charcoal powder.”
Interested in one of Nagata’s suits? While exact prices vary, Nagata noted that costs are as much as a small car. Want to see more? You can check out Nagata’s site here: Ryan Nagata
Jason Rhian spent several years honing his skills with internships at NASA, the National Space Society and other organizations. He has provided content for outlets such as: Aviation Week & Space Technology, Space.com, The Mars Society and Universe Today.