Why are spacesuits white?

If you haven’t already noted, all the space suits NASA astronauts use are white instead of any other color when performing extravehicular activities (such as spacewalks). China’s and Russia’s space agencies follow identical color schemes, but have you ever wondered why?

Those of us on Earth are protected by the Earth’s colorful atmosphere from the Sun’s harmful rays, but those on the International Space Station aren’t. NASA went for white spacesuits to help keep the radiation at bay. Much of the space radiation away from the astronaut and back into space is represented by the color white, shielding them, among other things, from cancer and extreme sunburn.

When in orbit, astronauts often wear other colors, such as blue when onboard the International Space Station and orange when docking with or coming down from the International Space Station, and that’s because the spacecraft itself protects them from space radiation. Perhaps more significantly, as they land back on Earth, the orange space suit makes astronauts more readily discernible to rescue crews.

When launching the Mercury mission, NASA initially used silver-colored space suits, but none of those astronauts ever abandoned the safety of their space vehicles. It was discovered later down the line that white represented space radiation better than silver, and so NASA adopted the color of the white spacesuit as a standard as astronauts began exploring the space vacuum.

But wait, why are the astronauts wearing orange suits too? What will be the difference? First things first, for each of these suits, there is a proper tag name. The orange one is the Crew Escape Suit Advanced (ACES).

And here’s what makes them different: First the colors are different, and behind that, there’s an explanation. The space shuttle ascent and entry suit is the orange-coloured Specialized Crew Escape Suit (ACES). Not just every hue of orange is used, but just the International Orange. This specific color is highly noticeable in relation to any form of landscape, particularly in the sea.

The suits for Extravehicular Activity (EVA) are bulkier and colored white. That is because the intense heat of the sun is reflected in white. Against the black expanse of space, it is clearly visible. Both of them were planned for completely distinct but specific purposes. In the event of an accident during the take-off or landing of a space shuttle, ACESs are intended to help astronauts recover. On the other hand, the EVAs are explicitly designed for spacewalking.

In the case of emergencies, the orange suit comes with a parachute ripcord and even has a knife. ACESs (orange) come with a ripcord for the parachute to open the parachute that lies on the back of the astronaut. If an astronaut get trapped, it even has a knife to cut the parachute cords. When it comes into contact with water, there’s even a life raft that sits on the back that opens on its own.

The white suit has a cooling system for water required for outer space survival. In extreme conditions, the water cooling system in EVA suits operates on recycled body sweat to keep an astronaut cool. It also has an in-suit water-filled drink bag that even lasts for a six-hour spacewalk.

In the orange outfit, the survival kit is very similar to the ones used by hikers. ACESs are fitted with radios, pills for motion sickness, strobe lights, flare kits and mittens so they operate perfectly well in the atmosphere of the Planet.

Now you know!

Check out my related post: What do astronauts eat and drink in space?

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