There is an article in Russian "Why do the American space suits look so different from Russian ones?" which claims that the new SpaceX suits are designed for looks, and have several issues, which, one can conclude from the article, would make them inferior to existing (especially Russian) ones.

Listed are at least (Google translate with some fixes by me):

  • This spacesuit has no joints(hinges/articulations? шарнир in Russian) at all, except on the fingers of the gloves - under pressure the astronaut will not be able to move at all. It remains only to wait for an emergency landing. So automation is expected to do everything on landing operations. Let me remind you - other spacesuits have many joints for mobility, which means more comfort and opportunities for astronauts. Will the SpaceX suit fulfill its survival function when depressurizing the capsule? Yes, it will. But it will do poorly. Compared to others, it will be very inconvenient.

  • Further down the list is the unusual entry. The astronaut will have to get into spacesuit like a worm, and someone should help him. And then you still need to get out somehow! Convenient? No. Can I use it? Yes. But why is it so complicated? That is, not how to make it more comfortable (read - more functional), but better looking so that zipper is not visible. How is the entrance to the Sokol (Russian emergency rescue suit) made? It is in front, on the chest, and the astronaut dresses himself, fastens himself, and then he undresses himself without help.

  • SpaceX suit has individual sizes. Current trends in spacesuit construction are to make spacesuits suitable for people of different stature and complexion. For commercial space, it is important to make a spacesuit with universal measurements in order to have as small a size as possible, but with the possibility of adjustment. This will reduce the cost of production and operation, will allow you to quickly make a replacement and in a couple of minutes adjust the suit to the figure of a new astronaut. Here, everything was done as at the dawn of manned space exploration, when there were no mass flights, but there were small cosmonaut detachments - and state programs did not count money at all.

  • A few words about the helmet. Cool looking. And uncomfortable. The printed plastic is not particularly durable, so the helmet wall thickness is about 25 mm. For other spacesuits, it is made of aluminum, with a wall thickness of 1.5 mm. The helmet was made like a motorcycle helmet, designed for driving at high speed, when ventilation is well organized according to speed, to remove exhaled gas and cool the head. There is no speed or free air flow in space, which means that there may be problems with ventilation and cooling.

  • The dimensions of the helmet of the [Russian] Sokol spacesuit are larger and more comfortable. NASA has also increased the size of helmets for their shipboard spacesuits - now you can even freely rotate your head inside them. In the SpaceX suit, the smaller helmet size allows you to turn and tilt your head only at a small angle.

  • But there is another, more important circumstance - the development, testing, development and certification system at SpaceX. Usually, when the tester, and then the astronaut, says: “I’m uncomfortable or bad here, I need to improve it,” the design is changed and finalized so that there are no complaints. For example, an astronaut raises his hand in his shoulder to make it more comfortable to climb and climb into the hatch of the ship, and says: “And here a rigid shoulder pad prevents me from raising my hand.” In a regular company, they take it and rip it off - that's all. And nothing more prevents the astronaut from raising his hand: it has become more convenient. And here it is forbidden to do so. After all, these hard shoulder pads introduced by a fashion designer, they can not be touched! They do not carry functionality, they are for beauty. Constructor cannot make changes, astronaut or tester cannot complain

Considering the naked propaganda we frequently encounter coming from Russia, my question is:

Are the listed problems true and are they actually relevant for spacesuits? If not, why not?

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    $\begingroup$ There doesn't seem to be any basis for any of the statements made above. $\endgroup$ – GdD May 31 at 14:45
  • $\begingroup$ It can't be fashion, the boots look like the ones on Monty Python Gumbies. $\endgroup$ – Organic Marble May 31 at 14:47
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    $\begingroup$ @GdD well, one can see that eg helmet thickness does look to be in the cm's rather than mm's. so I would assume at least some of the claims could be made from simple observation. But that is what the question is about. $\endgroup$ – Gnudiff May 31 at 14:57
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    $\begingroup$ For those of us that don't speak Russian, could you summarize what the basis for the results of that study is? Where did they get their data from? How many test subjects? How were the test subjects selected? How many suits? Was it a properly controlled, double-blind study with sound statistical methods? $\endgroup$ – Jörg W Mittag May 31 at 14:59
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    $\begingroup$ One contributor to the improved look is the tight fit (true for all clothing) and it comes with all the costs of it. Not sure how long astronauts are supposed to wear those but Russian and Chinese suits were designed to be worn for the entire mission (e.g. Shenzhou 5, 21 hours) so they have to optimize for comfort. $\endgroup$ – user3528438 May 31 at 16:35

I haven't found many sources regarding the technical details of the SpaceX IVA suit, the best site I have found so far are close up photographs by Tim Dodd: https://everydayastronaut.com/up-close-and-personal-with-spacexs-space-suit/

Based on this pictures I will try to answer those points:

  1. The joints: On the pictures there are special folds visible at the elbow and the knees similar to those on the gloves which enable the outer layer to extend in those places. But we only see the outer layer, I strongly suspect that there is a restraining layer with joints beneath it. On the Sokol suit the restraining layer is the outer layer so the joints are clearly visible, but I guess this is an exception.

    Edited to add: on Peter Homer's website (the one who won the NASA glove challenge) the following information can be read:

    Since 2013 Peter has worked with SpaceX to develop the pressure garment and pressure controls for the Crew Dragon space suit, as part of the NASA Commercial Crew program. He has extended his glove patterning methodology to the entire suit, generating a fully customized, bespoke space suit from the crew member's body measurements.

  2. Entering the suit: The suit has an inseam zipper as seen in this picture: https://everydayastronaut.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/08/SpaceX-00536.jpg. Here is a video showing such a zipper on a pajama for toddlers:

    I do not imagine that it would be difficult to enter.

  3. Custom tailored suits: Even for the Sokol suit the gloves and the seat liners are custom tailored. There are backup crews for each mission who are already prepared. How much longer it takes and how much more expensive it is to tailor an entire suit is hard to say, but a space mission isn't cheap and fast anyway.
  4. The helmets: For impact protection you would need a thicker layer to act as a cushion and to compress on impact. But I cannot see why you would need a helmet in an IVA suit anyway. The Sokol suit and the Boeing Starliner suit both have a hoodie with a visor. So yes, it appears to me that in this case a limiting item was added just for fashion. But then again I do not know the design goals.
  5. Design and testing process: Ok, this point puzzled me most. It was said in the NASA broadcasts that the test pilots for the Demo-2 mission were regular visitors to SpaceX for five years where they gave feedback. So where are the sources that their feedback was ignored? And once the design is finished -- well, I also haven't heard of any instance where the Sokol design was changed for a later user.

So while in some points the suit does seem to emphasize fashion over function, it does not appear to me to be that bad -- in the end, NASA did certify it and I expect neither the suit designers nor the NASA engineers to be ignorant of the necessary requirements.

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    $\begingroup$ Is there any information about suit inside pressure when the capsule is not pressurized in an emergency? Suit atmosphere composition for a pressurized and unpressurized capsule? $\endgroup$ – Uwe Jun 4 at 18:25
  • $\begingroup$ I realize the question is a bit hard to pin down, as the original article seems to rely only on visual observation, and to an extent so must the answer. Nevertheless you have pointed out things, which make the original article appear to be more propaganda than factual. Unless a more technically detailed answer appears, I am accepting for now. Thank you. $\endgroup$ – Gnudiff Jun 5 at 8:50
  • $\begingroup$ About your answer on the 3rd point: The backup crew usually become the main crew for the following launch, so their tailored suit will not go to waste. $\endgroup$ – Speedphoenix Jun 5 at 19:03
  • $\begingroup$ Yes, unfortunately it is still a bit hard to find good information on the new suits (so unfortunately I also do not know the pressure they are designed for). Most of the articles I have found in English are just praising it for its fashion and often make it sound like SpaceX reinvented the space suit. Oh, and to add to the point of entering the suits: maybe the article assumed that it was entered like the ACES or similar American suits which had the zipper on the back, where entering and closing the suit on your own did look a bit uncomfortable. $\endgroup$ – David-H-K Jun 7 at 7:21

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