Apollo spacesuit and EMU builders

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Hello Apollo spacesuit fans,
Like some of you, I grew up in the middle of the space race. It totally influenced my youth and probably played a role in my career selection. One of the things that have always interested me was that little piece of spacecraft called the Apollo EMU. I’ve spent countless hours observing, reading, and researching the real thing. I was also fortunate enough to gain an affiliation with Hamilton Sundstrand and assisted them on the restoration of actual spacesuit hardware including an IRWIN A7L back-up suit. Years ago I even made Apollo spacesuit costumes for my sons. After building those costumes it got me to thinking, why not construct a full scale, hi-fi, replica Apollo EMU for static display. I actually made decent progress on my EMU but I was always stopping to make improvements or rework details. It got to the point that I kind of put it on the back burner because progress had stalled so much. Years later I discovered some of the work RPFers were doing on the subject…
One such artist attempting his first Apollo A7L build was Ryan Nagata. Most of you spacesuit buffs know of Ryan’s dedication to this subject. He has shared several spacesuit related projects on this forum including his Mercury and Apollo spacesuits, CCA, Penlight, and LEVA builds. He is a talented artist and gifted craftsman. Ryan is a filmmaker and interested in all the right stuff including SCI-FI, Star Trek, and Real Space. Ryan builds these suits for his own use and takes on customer commissions too. His suits are designed to be wearable (see Spacefest pictures on his IG).
After coming to the realization that my project would need a kick start and my build time was limited, I decided to enlist a little help. Recently, I took delivery of an item and wanted to share it with you. Only a few of these things exist and I’m certain all are of similar quality. I’m talking about an Apollo 11-12 version of the A7L ITMG, EVA gloves, CCA, and LEVA made by no other than Ryan Nagata. My plan is simple, I am going to finally get that display I always wanted and will use my Mr. Nagata built suit for a near-exact static display of Neil Armstrong’s EMU in my home.

The box from Ryan arrived on a Saturday. This was perfect because it gave me a little time to spend with the suit over the weekend. At first glance it was easy to see that the suit, gloves, and LEVA were very well made. It was clear to me that the maker of these garments had carefully researched the design, had a strong passion for the subject, and was a talented artist. As I unpacked the suit I was surprised to see that the ITMG was fully lined. My initial impression of the ITMG was that it was going to be a great piece to tie the EMU display together. Last year Ryan had built one of these for Adam Savage. One of Adam’s comments about his suit came back to me now, “Truly you have NO IDEA how good this thing looks in person”. I have spent many hours with the real thing so naturally I began to wonder how close Ryan had hit his mark. The shape, size, finish, etc. of Ryan’s suit looked familiar but how did it compare to the original hardware. I thought the most direct way to do this would be in the form of comparing photos of the real suit and assemblies to photos of the replica suit and assemblies. Extensive photo records of Armstrong’s A7L reside on the “Apollo Lunar Surface Journal” and I decided to use those as a reference for the comparison. Meaningful photo comparisons are not as easy as placing the two photos side by side. An accurate photo comparison should have each subject shot in a similar pose, at the same distance, angle, lighting, and so on. Not knowing the original photo data, the best I could hope for is accurate posing of the replica to conduct some shape and proportion comparisons. I also had actual measurements from the IRWIN suit that would come in handy for comparisons too. To be fair, I asked Ryan to build me an Apollo 11-12 style A7L with Armstrong markings. I did not ask nor could I expect him to build me an exact replica of Armstrong’s suit. I’m sure we will discover a few differences during the comparison to the actual Armstrong A7L. My intent here is to not be overly critical but to understand the fidelity of the suit and evaluate any differences as a potential candidate for possible adjustments or additions to my EMU display.

As I go into the various features of the suit you will see that even these replicas can be complex projects that require significant hours to finish. Ryan pays a great deal of attention to a quality fit and finish. I think Ryan would be the first to say that he is continually tweaking the way he puts these suits together. Ryan incorporates improvements gained from the experience of his previous builds. My understanding is that these improvements come in the form of new production techniques developed from efficiencies discovered during the previous building process, new details discovered during additional advanced research, and better source material availability. Of course all of this must be tempered by the purpose and scope of the build. I believe Ryan strives to build the most accurate looking, light weight, and comfortable suits possible. My suit was made late last year and I’m sure his newest designs have already benefited from process improvements

My interests in props are mainly for static display. I have a decent VADER helmet collection and may eventually attempt a full scale VADER display. I know there are a lot of folks who build costumes and spacesuits for use in COSPLAY. I am encouraged by this because it not only serves as a reminder of our space program heritage but it just looks cool and must certainly be fun. With spacesuits, the closer you get to a high-fidelity replica, the more you have to deal with real spacesuit problems. If you are interested in the environmental challenges faced by real spacesuit designers then I recommend you take a look at the book “US Spacesuits” by Ken Thomas and Harold McMann. Chapter 3 sums it up nicely. Life support, comfort, mobility, visibility of surroundings, cooling, humidity, bodily functions, etc…Real spacesuits are complex machines that solve those requirements. Unfortunately, some of those solutions are compromises at best. Just a note to say please be careful when making spacesuits for COSPLAY. Anyone strapping on a full garment like a spacesuit is very familiar, or soon will be acquainted with the Heat Monster.

I will look at the gloves, LEVA, CCA, general suit areas, and full suit display for comparison. Gloves and LEVA will be first. Next will be a distance shot in a Smithsonian display configuration.
GLOVES: Something as simple looking as a glove continues to give spacesuit designers fits. Compressive ability, Mobility, dexterity, tactility, all wrapped in thermal protective materials remains the elusive features. The lunar gloves were basically a modified IV pressure glove with an EV glove shell that provided thermal and abrasion protection. Lunar soil proved to be a tenacious customer. The sharp edges of the lunar dust would wedge into the weave of the outer BETA cloth and also find its way into the glove disconnects. Glove materials included Chromel-R, BETA cloth, silicone, and aluminum. The inner glove was a pressure bladder custom made from molds taken from the wearer’s hands. The blue finger-tip shells were made from nylon tricot dipped in high strength silicone. The outer EV glove shell palm and finger areas were made from Chromel R cloth with BETA cloth gauntlets. Chromel-R was designed to provide resistance to abrasions and cuts and is woven from fibers made from a Chromium-Nickel alloy. The Velcro flap on top of the glove provided access to the palm restraint flap. The palm flap provided compression of the palm area to minimize ballooning while the glove was pressurized.
Left Side Glove.jpg
Top photo is Armstrong’s glove worn during EVA. The overall shape and size of Ryan’s replica gloves is very similar to the actual glove. Although the replica glove tips are not silicone, they are hollow and allow for fingertip insertion. The left glove checklist is spot-on and correctly top-stitched to the gauntlet. The highlight of Ryan’s replica is the quality fit and sewing of the intricate glove palm and finger area. The cloth used to replicate Chromel-R is also very similar looking to the real deal. Ryan also included cast resin glove connectors, complete with a movable bearing surface just like the real glove. The glove male connector is located under the gauntlet and is secured the suit side connector by the use of magnets.
GAUNTLET: Beta cloth is expensive and hard to obtain. Most replicators use various weights and weaves of white nylon cloth as a Beta cloth substitute. The Beta cloth used on the actual glove gauntlet has a very distinctive looking texture/pattern. It appears to be a type of heavy weight plain weave cloth with some fiber weaves at 90 degrees and some at 45 degrees. This gives the appearance of a labyrinth profile. When this cloth is pressed up against a hard surface the labyrinth profile disappears and it's easy to see the plain weave of the cloth. Nylon cloth weaves do not exhibit this labyrinth profile. Ryan did the next best thing by using a medium weight, plain weave nylon cloth. Several types of Beta cloth were used on the components of the EMU. Unfortunately, the labyrinth style Beta cloth used on the real gauntlet was also used on the majority of the outermost TMG covering (white covering) of the suit. High abrasion/wear areas had a different weight and weave of BETA. High wear areas (shoulder area under PLSS strap, knees, seat of pant) on the early A7Ls have an outer covering of 2 X 2 twill weave Beta. Flaps, pockets, patches, and other areas appear to be made of a plain weave Beta. The main purpose of the outmost layer of the suit is to provide fire, thermal, and micrometeoroid protection.
LEVA: The Lunar Extravehicular Visor Assembly (LEVA) was designed to provide light and heat protection for the pressure bubble and the Astronaut. It fits over and secures to the base of the bubble helmet. The helmet shell, shell cover assembly, and inner clear visor provide protection against accidental impact damage, heat, and micrometeoroids. The sun visor has a gold coating on the inside of the visor and provides protection from light and heat. The side eyeshades protect against light penetrating side viewing and serve to reduce low angle solar glare.
LEVA side.jpg LEVA.jpg LEVA eyeshade.jpg LEVA front.jpg
As evidenced in the photo comparisons the overall LEVA shape and construction is highly accurate to the original. Ryan has a thread on this so I won’t go deep into the construction.
LEVA Shell: The original shell was made of polycarbonate. Obviously a replica does not need to be made of polycarbonate so Ryan made his shell from a lighter weight ABS or styrene. The replica shell has an accurate enough shape and was painted in the correct color scheme.
LEVA cover: The distinctive labyrinth style Beta cloth strikes again. Replicating this texture or purchasing a close substitute cloth is really not possible. I consider this stuff unobtainium. Ryan uses the right weight of nylon and attached an inner liner in the appropriate places. High abrasion areas on the original had a different weave of Teflon coated Beta. The replica cover fits over the shell very nicely and drapes well for such a complex curve assembly.
Visors, shades, hinges:
Protective visor: The actual visor was a polycarbonate unit and the replica visors are done in PETG. The handle flange grip section is accurately shaped and comes complete with rubber seal.
Sun Visor: The actual sun visor is made of Polysulfone material with a thin layer of gold deposited on the inner surface. This gold was deposited on the actual visor by evaporating gold in a process known as sputtering. Ryan uses mirror gold paint but for this replica he used gold deposition chemicals. This resulted in a warmer gold appearance and probably made it easier for the wearer to see thru the visor. Ryan has an Instagram post on this. The gold visor looks as close to a gold sputtering original as I have seen.
Eyeshades: The original eyeshades were fiberglass units. Ryan’s are plastic, correctly shaped, and painted white on the outside and black on the inside just like the real deal.
Hinges: The original hinges secure the visor assembly to the helmet shell. They have a bearing surface and series of spacers that provide the rotating reference for the visors and shades. The hinges also allow for visor to pressure bubble and shell clearance adjustments. The replica LEVA hinges work in tandem with the outer shell to provide the visor/eyeshade rotating bearing surface and secure the visor assembly to the shell. No adjustment provisions are provided nor really required.

Distance view of ITMG/Gloves/LEVA assembly: The Armstrong suit is currently undergoing a restoration and 3D mapping. A while ago it was displayed with the Aldrin suit at the Smithsonian. The photo on the left was taken from the Smithsonian website. I do not know the photo specs but I attempted to make a similar shot to compare the two suits.
distance comparison Smithsonian.jpg

The comparison is favorable. The overall shape and proportions are very similar. I think the base Armstrong replica suit will make a very accurate Armstrong EMU display.

Detail of the upper torso, arms, legs, and Lunar Overshoes coming soon..

Left Side Glove.jpg

LEVA eyeshade.jpg

LEVA front.jpg

LEVA side.jpg


distance comparison Smithsonian.jpg
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I wanted to thank you for this very complete review of one of Ryan Nagata's Apollo suits. Very enjoyable read and always great to read about a master-of-the-art's work...
I am, btw, also connected personally to our space program (my dad designed and built the ground to "air" comm network for NASA 's Mercury Project) and am in process of conducting research for making a Mercury suit and an early Gemini suit...good luck with your project and do keep posting progress...also, am surprised you havent gotten more comments on your very interesting post...

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