Thursday, January 1, 2009

Jack Arnold and the first Space Suit

While I was the Air Materiel Officer at the Philadelphia Naval Yard, I had many interesting experiences. Our facility was in charge of ejection seat development and what are now called egress systems. We also ended up being the office of primary responsibility for all personal equipment for aviators.

When it was clear the country was going to go into space, either by way of the Air Force’s DynaSoar program or NASA’s Mercury Program, the Navy was given the task of developing a suit that would allow the astronauts to live in the vacuum of space. Blood boils at around 62,000 feet, so just breathing oxygen would not help. Somehow we had to be able to replicate the pressure to that of at least 33,000 feet while maintaining flexibility. The Navy was picked because we had a lot of experience going the other way, down deep, where we needed to replicate a higher altitude and still move. We thought we could use some of the same methods, perhaps altered.

That is when I first got to be good friends with Wally Schirra, a young Navy pilot I would stay close to until his death (just a few months before Jack’s – ed). Wally, one of the original Mercury Seven Astronauts was detailed to my operation to help develop the spacesuit. We worked with the Navy dive equipment people and the aviator equipment people and came up with the first spacesuit.

Looking back, it amazes me how much we did with so little. Shows what happens when you don’t know you can’t do something.

ADM Jackson D. Arnold, Oral History November 2005