“Space underwear have come a long way since their first use fifty years ago,” observes Alyssa Shaw in a review of “Suited for Space,” an exhibition at the Chemical Heritage Foundation in Philadelphia:
On display in the quirky exhibition are a few different models of spacesuit underwear, including a beige cotton one-piece with coil spacers affixed strategically to allow airflow. “Such underwear,” the suit’s caption reads, “was an absolute necessity; it kept an astronaut from overheating in a completely airtight spacesuit.”
And an absolutely necessity it was. A sketch from 1965 shows the Gemini EV spacesuit with its many layers, the first of which labeled “underwear,” others including “comfort layer,” “pressure bladder,” and “restraint layer.” In the late 1960s, Atlas Underwear Corporations designed the Apollo 11 “biobelt,” a soft layer worn against astronaut’s skin designed to monitor things like blood pressure, but not necessarily designed with the wearer’s comfort in mind. Commander Chris Conrad of the Apollo 12 mission wasn’t a fan of the biobelt. He mused, “It looks like I’ve got poison ivy under these things.”
But decades of research have improved the situation:
In 2009, [Japanese astronaut] Koichi Wakata wore the same pair of underwear for nearly a month while on the International Space Station. The material tested was alleged to be sweat-wicking, odor resistant, and insulating, qualities needed in closed quarters during those oh-so-cold space nights. Wakata later attested to their success, having had no complaints from his fellow astronaut travelers of odd smells coming from his trusty drawers.
(Image via NASA)