Where Are the Space Suits?
We all know the space settlers from their pictures - peering through a faceplate to guide their gloves in operating a piece of equipment, trudging with comrades over sand and rock to scout the mysteries and riches of the frontier, standing alone in a moment of respite as a gray or red alien landscape spreads in all directions. The message is subtle, but powerful - as individuals, we are not going to space just to hunker down in a tin can and monitor the gages in the life support system. Space is freedom, and freedom requires a large dose of suit time.
The most intricate piece of electro/chemico/mechanical technology a space settler will own will be a space suit. It will have to perform many of the functions of the colony life support system, and operate in a mobile, minimal weight package. He or she had better be able to fix it or cobble it or have a buddy who can, because warranty service is a long way off. The design itself must be simple and repairable, with as few throwaway parts as possible.
Someday there will be an inexpensive volksuit that incorporates the hard won experience of many pioneers, but, at the outset, there will likely be just two choices - a custom designed, craftsman-built suit and a high dollar NASA-type suit. The type of craftsman who builds a product without a present market is an amateur. In fields like radio, automobiles, computers, and rocketry, there is a long history of amateurs who design and build systems solely for bragging rights and the sheer joy of mastery over Nature. We will know that the competition for space settlement has been joined in earnest when amateurs in functioning space suits are walking the halls of the International Space Development Conference.
Space suits are not the only technology that calls out for grassroots development. Where are the backyard biospheres? Where are the sheds and chicken coops and even houses that are built from simulated space materials and space construction methods? When these fields all light up, they will exert a supply side push on the space settlement movement that will drive it permanently into the public consciousness.
October 16, 1999