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Spacesuit - A History through Fact and Fiction

Brett A. Gooden

Now available in e-book format


Read the reviews  "...  this book is a real gem ..."  

Tattered Flag Press is delighted to announce that Spacesuit has won a

2012 American Astronautical Society  Eugene M. Emme Astronautical Literature Award:


Space times cover

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The spacesuit is an icon of space flight. It is the very symbol of interplanetary exploration – of pioneering adventure, of excitement and danger, and of man’s quest to learn more of other worlds.

This book follows thspacesuits pic 3e remarkable history of the spacesuit through science fiction and fact. With an absorbing blend of drama and detail, Brett Gooden explains how this seemingly impossible dream gradually evolved into the complex suits of today and how the quest continues for the ‘Mars and Beyond’ suits of tomorrow.

Man has dreamt of flying into space and walking on other planets for hundreds of years. But the risks to the human body involved in making this a reality were only observed when, in the 1800s, an adventurous few climbed high mountains and took the first tentative steps into the sky under hydrogen filled balloons.

Gradually it became clear that to leave the earth’s atmosphere and gravity, our frail bodies would need protection from many dangers. Jules Verne, in his epic novel Around the Moon in 1872, recognised this need and was one of the first to suggest that some form of suit, similar to that used by deep sea divers, might allow his space voyagers to venture safely into the vacuum outside their spaceship.spacesuits pic 2

In the period between the World Wars, daring pilots, competing with each other, ventured higher and higher into the thinner atmosphere.

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They challenged the physiologists and engineers to provide them with special suits to achieve this goal. At the same time, cheap pulp fiction magazines pumped out colourful adventures of humans in space. Their eye-catching cover illustrations became the archetypical feature of these ‘pulps’ and allowed artists to give vent to their wildest fantasy. Their inventive dreams for spacesuits fed back to the scientific community. Fiction influenced fact.

Complemented by astonishing and detailed illustrations, this book unlocks the seemingly impenetrable secrets of how the spacesuit was made into a practical and essential device. How simple everyday items such as the car tyre, the caterpillar and the concertina provided critical clues that eventually brought the spacesuit to reality.

This is the fascinating, extraordinary and often bizarre story of the Spacesuit – through Fact and Fiction.

The Author

Brett GoodenFrom the age of eight, when he insisted that his mother take him to see the seminal science fiction film Destination Moon, Brett Gooden has had a fascination for the fact and fiction of human spaceflight. In 1961 he joined the British Interplanetary Society (UK) and was elected a Fellow of the Society in 1973. In 1967 he became a member of the Space Medicine Branch of the Aerospace Medical Association (USA). He obtained his MB, BS (1967) and MD (1972) degrees from the University of Adelaide, and PhD (1978) from the University of Nottingham (UK). He was elected to membership of Sigma Xi, the Scientific Research Society (USA) in 1973 and the Physiological Society (UK) in 1975. His scientific research in Australia, USA and UK has dealt largely with aerospace and diving medicine. He authored one of the earliest reviews of the physiological responses of man in orbit in Spaceflight 1964. His books include Diving and Asphyxia: a comparative study of animals and man (Cambridge University Press, 1983, reprinted 2009), Spaceport Australia (Kangaroo Press, 1990), Echidna: extraordinary egg-laying mammal (CSIRO Publishing, 2006) and Projekt Natter – Last of the Wonder Weapons: The Luftwaffe’s vertical take-off rocket interceptor (Chevron Publishing Limited, 2006). He lives in Australia.

A five-minute interview with Dr Brett A. Gooden,

author of ‘Spacesuit – A History Through Fact and Fiction

We asked Brett to tell us about the book.

The Tattered Flag: Hello, Brett. Thanks for chatting with us. Perhaps we could start with asking what made you first interested in the development of the Spacesuit? What inspired you to write the book?

Brett Gooden: Well, I have always been curious about what makes things tick. At the end of the Second World War my mother desperately wanted to listen to Winston Churchill’s ‘Victory in Europe’ speech on the BBC overseas broadcast. We lived in South Australia. As I was a rather loquacious toddler she gave me an old alarm clock to keep me quiet. On conclusion of Churchill’s rousing speech, she went to retrieve the clock to find that it had devolved into a little pile of cogs and springs.

As an undergraduate in the early 1960s, a doctor of aviation medicine told me categorically, ‘They will never walk on the Moon’. ‘Why?’ I asked. ‘Because they will never be able to design a suit flexible enough.’ Six years later Neil Armstrong walked on the Moon. When I tried to find out how this suit had evolved, I could not find a book that satisfied my curiosity. So I decided to research the subject myself. I guess I am ‘A Little Red Hen’ of scientific writing.

TTF: What is it about your approach that makes this book different from other studies?

BG: As you have pointed out I have been interested in science fiction from a very early age. I have always been a ‘visual’ person. I was excited by artists’ visions of how man would conquer space. The ability to take contemporary scientific concepts and translate them into a vision of the future intrigued and excited me. I was influenced greatly by the wonderful images of Chesley Bonestell and his colleagues in the books Across the Space Frontier, Man on the Moon and The Exploration of Mars. Also I was fascinated by the brilliant artwork of Frank Hampson who created the UK space hero Dan Dare.

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So I wanted to use this book as a platform to show how the dreams of science fiction artists ran in parallel with the scientific and engineering developments of the time. I wanted to show the cross-fertilization between art and science. In that way I believe this book is different and, I hope, exciting and rewarding for the reader.

TTF: How did you research for the book?

BG: As you can imagine I already have a considerable personal library of books on related subjects, but also I use the facilities of large libraries too. I have been an academic for a long time and am used to researching. These days much material is available on-line and this is a new avenue for me. Of course, great care must be exercised in the selection of on-line information. My research for my previous book ‘Projekt Natter’ taught me a great deal about the hazards of on-line material. Sometimes you just have to slog it out and pursue the original documentation as far as possible to uncover ‘the truth’. I find researching exciting. It is like spending years in the back-woods fossicking for gold and finally finding a nugget. That is what research is like. Looking for the nuggets of truth.

TTF: Is there any single personality whom you feel contributed more than anyone else to the story?

BG: That is a hard question. Like most advances in science and engineering each advance builds on the work of those who have gone before. I think it would be unfair to focus on any one individual. I include in my book many people who played important roles in the development of pressure and spacesuits along the road to success. I leave it to the readers to make their own value judgments.

TTF: So to what extent did ‘fiction’ influence ‘fact’?

BG: Well, for example, during the Second World War the famous science fiction writers, Robert Heinlein and L. Sprague de Camp, worked together at the Naval Air Experimental Station in Philadelphia (incredibly, Isaac Asimov was also there). Their science fiction concepts of what a spacesuit should look like significantly influenced the secret US project to develop a pressure suit for high-flying aircrew.

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TTF: Have there been any classic or significant mistakes along the way?

BG: Yes. In the late 1800s writers like Jules Verne were beginning to imagine people floating in space and walking on the Moon. The artists who were contracted to draw the illustrations for these sci-fi tales used the idea of the diving suit which had been first developed in the mid-1800s. They dressed their space travellers in diving suits. The diving suit works fine under water as the pressure inside and outside the suit are the same. But in space there is a vacuum outside and the pressure inside the suit must allow our space adventurers to breathe. So diving suits would simply balloon rigidly into their natural shape and spreadeagle our intrepid space travellers like scarecrows, totally immobilizing them. The key to the spacesuit is to design joints that can bend with little or no resistance. That was a pivotal and hard battle for suit designers and a battle that is still being fought today.

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TTF: Do you think there is still a long way to go with spacesuit development? Have we seen the full potential yet?

BG: Yes, there is still much to learn. Suits for Mars and beyond will require further developments on many fronts. They will need to be more mobile, light, hard-wearing, easy to clean and adaptable for a variety of roles in space and on planetary bodies. New ideas for skintight suits arebeing suggested but they can only work if they are comfortable to wear for considerable lengths of time and at the moment it is hard to see how this can be achieved. I wonder if in the far future we may be able to genetically engineer our own bodies to survive in space without the need for any suit at all. This sounds like science fiction but isn’t that what my book is all about, how the seemingly impossible dream became a reality. Only time will tell.

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TTF: Do you have any other writing plans or projects?

BG: Scientific writing is a large part in my life. I enjoy the research that precedes the writing but I also love the creative component – not only the authoring but also the preparation of the illustrative material. Scientific writing is an art in itself. We hear a lot about authors of fiction, but I feel scientific authors deserve a much higher profile. I can spend up to ten years researching and meticulously crafting a book. A writer of romance novels may churn out a book a year or more. Scientific writers are not only creative writers but educators as well. Yes, I’m sure most authors are thinking ahead as they write a current book. I have never had a lack of ideas for new books. That’s never been a problem for me. Just 24 hours in a day, that’s the problem.

TTF: Many thanks, Brett. I’m sure our readers will find this most interesting.

BG: Thanks. It was fun talking with you.

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