Launch and Entry Suit

Informally known as the “pumpkin suit” because of its orange color, the Launch and Entry Suit (LES) was worn by all Space Shuttle crewmembers from STS-26 (Space Transport System) in 1988 through STS-64 in 1994.

The suit protected the astronauts from the near-vacuum outside the spacecraft in case of a high-altitude bail-out and from the frigid waters of the North Atlantic Ocean into which they would parachute after such a bail-out. It would also provide temporary protection against a cabin air leak requiring an emergency return to Earth.

The LES was derived from the suit worn by U.S. Air Force pilots in the mid-1970s flying high-altitude reconnaissance missions in the U-2 and SR-71 aircraft, a modification of which was earlier worn by astronauts on STS-1 through STS-4.(Crewmembers on the fifth through the 25th Shuttle flights wore only light-weight flight coveralls during launch and landing.)

The LES was a partial-pressure suit, meaning it used air-filled, double-walled bladders between the wearer’s body and the outer layer of the suit to provide direct mechanical counterpressure to the body when it was inflated. It had a tight-fitting rubber diaphragm around the wearer’s neck so oxygen could fill the helmet without leaking out through the rest of the suit.

The suit features a one-piece torso-limb garment with a flame-resistant outer layer, closed with a rear-entry zipper and featuring a full-pressure helmet with a polycarbonate faceplate, mechanical seal, and dark sunshade, as well as zippered-on gloves, black safety boots and a survival backpack.

During the period of 1994 to 1995, the LES was replaced by the Advanced Crew Escape Suit (ACES), a full-pressure suit in which the wearer was enclosed in an airtight body-shaped pressure envelope, The ACES was not only more comfortable for extended wear but lighter and more flexible, both important features during an in-flight emergency.

Both the LES and ACES were manufactured by The David Clark Company of Worcester, MA, which had also provided the spacesuits worn by all of NASA’s Gemini astronauts.

See the Launch Entry Suit inside Starship Gallery at Space Center Houston.

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