On Wednesday morning at iFLY in Yonkers, NY, Under Armour and Virgin Galactic unveiled the world’s first commercial space suit and footwear, which are the products of a two-year partnership between the athletic apparel giant and the spaceflight company. Virgin Galactic hopes to open space to everyone by providing suborbital spaceflights to “space tourists” as early as next year.
Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank and Virgin Group founder Richard Branson have been friends for over a decade. As Plank repeatedly listened to Branson lay out his vision of commercial space travel, he had one recurring thought: What are they going to wear?
Under Armour’s design team answered that question with the same process they use to approach any uniform deal. “We started with understanding the sport, the needs of the athlete and the extreme conditions they will go through,” Plank says. “We saw it as an opportunity to overcome what others may have seen as problems with technology.”
The suit consists of a base layer, a flight suit, and boots. The base layer is made of a moisture- and temperature-regulating fabric that will enhance blood flow during high and zero G portions of flight. A new, auxetic material that thickens when stretched is incorporated into the elbows and knees of the suit, along with high-tech cushioning in the shoulders and neck to protect high-impact zones from high Gs. The lining of the suit is cooling, quick-drying, and smooth to keep future astronauts comfortable in the wide variety of temperatures they may encounter. Footwear is sleek, soft, lightweight, and flame-retardant, inspired by shoes worn by race-car drivers, with nothing to snag on equipment while floating in zero gravity.
“Suits of the past were made to perform a task, while this suit is to enjoy and savor space on your own terms in a bespoke way,” says Virgin Galactic chief astronaut instructor Beth Moses. “The challenge was not to get too nitty-gritty and technical and to make sure the suit stays out of the way so people can savor their experience.”
The suits will undergo further testing on Virgin Galactic’s remaining crewed test flights before the 603 customers who have already committed to fly will wear them into space. Chief among them is Branson himself, who plans to be on the first flight. Branson loves the personal details of the Under Armour flight suit, which includes a clear, inside breast pocket to allow astronauts to carry pictures of loved ones over their hearts. Branson says he’ll be carrying photos of his children, grandchildren, wife, mother, and father.
“I certainly won’t be bringing a camera or a phone,” he says. “I’ll just want to look out the window and take it all in.”