The Journey to Moonwalking – Book Spotlight

The Journey to Moonwalking by
Kenneth S. Thomas
Journey to Moonwalking cover


By setting the goal for going to the Moon by the end of 1969, President Kennedy transformed the Soviet/U.S. arms race, with its escalating confrontations, into a “space race.” Perhaps the greatest obstacle to going to the Moon was the development of the spacesuit. This is the story of human efforts, specifically the innovation, struggle, and sacrifice carried out by otherwise ordinary men and women that culminated in the spacesuit that made the first human surface explorations of the Moon possible. The success of Apollo resulted in replacing the looming specter of a possible world-devastating war with peace and cooperation in space between these two great rival nations. However, few know of all the contributions that were required to allow the first humans to set foot on and explore the Moon. Most are not aware of the magnitude and abundance of challenges to such an endeavor, let alone the solutions needed. This book represents over two decades of research, interviewing original participants, and working with other spacesuit historians to determine Apollo spacesuit contributions and contributors. The author brings a unique expertise to this historic achievement. He was a spacesuit engineer for twenty-two years and has been a consultant to national museums since 1993. Additionally, performing knowledge-capture for NASA gave the author a micro-level view into Apollo history, which provided additional enlightenment. The result is a human chronicle of the challenges, achievements, and experiences related to the most watched historical event of its time.

Information about the Book
Title: The Journey to Moonwalking
Author: Kenneth S. Thomas
Release Date: 23rd October 2017
Genre: Non Fiction
Publisher: Curtis Press
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This is a story of people who struggled and sacrificed to make possible one of the greatest human achievements of the 20th century. As these people were part of the United States’ space effort, this could be viewed as an American story. However, the space race was a rivalry between the superpowers where otherwise ordinary men and women provided a positive influence on the course of world history at a time when it was desperately needed. Thus, it is also a human tale common to all humanity.

The Apollo spacesuit made history, and that history changed the world. However, most people do not understand the importance of spacesuits. If your spacecraft loses cabin pressure while going into space, while in celestial travel, or while returning to Earth, your spacesuit can keep you alive. If there is a problem with your spacecraft or space station, your spacesuit can allow you to go out into space and address a potentially life-threatening emergency. Even going out into space to conduct planned activities can have great significance. However, perhaps the greatest potential value is that a spacesuit can make it possible to venture onto planetary bodies and explore the secrets of the universe.

The goal of the space race was not only to go to the Moon but to conduct meaningful exploration once there. This required leaving the spacecraft and performing tasks on the lunar surface. At the start of this competition, no one had spacesuits capable of allowing people to venture outside a spacecraft, let alone explore the surface of the Moon. The craft and technologies to make such spacesuits were yet unknown. While some of the challenges that lay ahead were recognized, most were not. To appreciate the significance of contributions made by people working on spacesuits it is necessary to understand the challenges they faced.

For people to survive and function, they must be surrounded by a pressurized environment that contains sufficient oxygen. To work on the surface of the Moon, this meant being in a pressure suit. The first challenge comes from the pressure in the suit trying to make the pressure garment immobile. As a minimum, this suit environment had to be pressurized to at least 3.5 pounds per square inch (3.5 psi or 24 kPa) pure oxygen for an astronaut to effectively function in the vacuum of space. A typical pressure suit has over 1,000 square inches (6,452 cm2) of internal surface area. Thus, there are thousands of pounds of pressure trying to make the garment rigid and inflexible. Without effective mobility elements, the astronauts would be unable to move their arms, legs, waist, and fingers adequately enough to explore the Moon’s surface. Additionally, the pressure suit had to bend so it would follow their movement. Otherwise, the garment would restrict movement and cause injury. This required development and invention.

In the direct sunlight of space, the temperature of exposed items on the lunar surface can rise to 250F (121C). In the shade of space, things cool to approximately 140F (96C). Fortunately for space farers, highly effective space insulation was developed in the early 1960s. However, the success of this insulation caused another problem; it held both body heat and heat generated by equipment in the spacesuit. The life support system not only had to provide pressure and oxygen but also a cool working environment.

Rejecting heat from an insulated spacesuit is not easy. First, the spacesuit must remove heat from the user so that they remain comfortable and can effectively work. Pressure suits have to be reasonably tight fitting. This is not conducive to heat removal using circulating gases. Then, the suit’s life support, a.k.a. ‘‘backpack,’’ must collect the heat generated from the user and other sources, and reject all the collected heat to the vacuum of space. Of course, a vacuum is highly effective insulation there are no particles to carry away the heat energy.

The life support backpack also had to remove carbon dioxide so headaches, disorientation, and loss of life did not occur. The backpack provided oxygen to sustain life, and controlled humidity for both comfort and safety. All these backpack functions were provided in a system so compact that it and the pressure suit could pass through hatches and be light enough to be carried in lunar gravity for hours. Moreover, there were basic life considerations such as staying hydrated and ‘‘going to the bathroom’’ that had to be addressed.

However, the greatest spacesuit challenges were unknown. No one knew the correct design requirements as no one had ever designed, successfully manufactured, or certified the safety of a spacesuit capable of going out in space before. Then there was developing and making the spacesuits that would meet those requirements and perform well on the Moon. All these issues were great challenges to Apollo.

The journey that enabled humankind’s first footsteps on the moon is a collage of human experiences spanning over three decades. The ‘‘giant leap for mankind’’ was made possible by hundreds of small steps. Each step was a challenge. When the challenge was underestimated, a setback resulted. Thus, this story is of scores of iterations of effort by hundreds of people from a variety of organizations. Through perseverance and dedication, an army of workers all made contributions culminating in the spacesuit that made this historic feat possible. These contributions not only helped shaped world history but continue to leave influences as humanity advances toward its destiny of moving beyond our home planet in the future.

Author Information

Living in Manchester, Connecticut, Kenneth S. Thomas is a second-generation space engineer and has worked within the field for over four decades. His career has spanned the Shuttle Extravehicular Mobility Unit program and the Lunar–Mars suit and he has been the sole inventor on two international advanced spacesuit patents. Kenneth has also taught his expertise at Central Connecticut State University, Johnson Space Centre’s NASA Academy and since 1994 has worked as a consultant to the National Air and Space Museum’s Space History Division. He was the primary author on U.S. Spacesuits (1st Ed. 2002, 2nd Ed. 2006, Springer Publications) that NASA uses as a textbook and co-wrote several International Conferences on Environmental Systems (ICES) and technical papers for NASA. He has also appeared as an expert on the 2008 Moon Machines TV series and is a regular speaker at Space Day at the New England Air Museum (NEAM).

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