SpaceX’s spacesuited Starman mannequin serves a real purpose


SpaceX put a “Starman” into space today, on a path to a potential wide looping orbit of Mars and Earth — it was actually a mannequin wearing an official SpaceX crew flight suit, but it was more than just a fun payload for a rocket that stood every chance of exploding mid-flight, it turns out.

Elon Musk revealed on a press call following the Falcon Heavy launch on Tuesday that the mannequin was wearing an actual production SpaceX crew spacesuit, rather than a non-functional prototype or mock-up. The suit, which the SpaceX CEO revealed last year via Instagram, will eventually clothe SpaceX astronauts flying on board Crew Dragon, the capsule it’s developing to bring real people to space, with a target initial launch date of later this year if all goes to plan.

The suit, developed in-house by SpaceX, features a sleeker design than most spacefaring flight suits you’ll find. It’s a design that came with a price, however: Musk said that combining style and function was a particular challenge in a spacesuit.

“I mean, it’s a dangerous trip, you want to look good,” he said. “It’s easy to make a spacesuit that looks good but doesn’t work, it’s really hard to make a spacesuit that works, and looks good.”

And the suit does look good: It’s a stylish black and white, with clean lines and a helmet that looks like it’s been pulled from a sci-fi film with excellent costume design.

The suit, as mentioned, has more than good looks, however. It’s also a part of the qualification articles set by NASA that must be met in order to operate crewed launches that it be tested in the correct conditions, so Starman is serving SpaceX’s larger goal of providing crewed flight capabilities, too.

“It definitely works though,” Musk added. “You can just put it on and jump in a vacuum chamber.”

Behind the scenes of SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy launch day prep

SpaceX is launching its Falcon Heavy rocket tomorrow, and if it’s successful, it’ll be twice as powerful in terms of cargo capacity as its next closest active rival. That will help give SpaceX an edge in the growing private space race, and open up new opportunities in terms of potential clients, as well as set the stage for traveling to Mars.

The launch itself is happening on Tuesday, February 6 at 1:30 PM EST, weather permitting. The window lasts until 4 PM EST, however, so if conditions are good within that time the launch should go off as planned. There’s a backup window on February 7, which also starts at 1:30 PM EST, and we’ll be there live to watch it happen and report back all the news right here on TechCrunch.