Astronaut Underwear

Astronaut Underwear

15/11/2017Written by Dan Kendall

Take a sneak peek at some of the latest objects to enter the National Space Centre's collection, including Buzz Aldrin's astronaut underwear!

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Buzz Aldrin's Constant Wear Garment

Like a financially well-off Tom Jones fan, we have recently acquired the underwear of one of our heroes. Buzz Aldrin’s underwear to be precise!

Astronaut underwear might not be everybody’s cup of tea, but here at the National Space Centre we are delighted to have acquired what is known in the trade as a Constant Wear Garment. Constant Wear Garments (or CWGs, if, like me, you’re trying to bluff being a space expert) were worn by the Apollo astronauts underneath the rest of their clothing. They might look like rather unassuming long-johns, designed to keep the wearer warm and comfortable whilst protecting against spacesuit chafing – one of the lesser known risks of being an astronaut – but, like all NASA technology, there is actually much more going on here.

This CWG was worn by Buzz Aldrin during his training for Apollo 11. It is identical to the underwear he wore during that historic flight to the Moon. CWGs were designed to be worn underneath the standard flightsuit or spacesuit that the crew wore inside the Command Module. To take those historic first steps on the Moon, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin changed into Liquid-Cooling Garments to wear underneath their spacesuits. Apollo astronauts had more outfit changes than one of the professionals on Strictly Come Dancing, so for this blog I’m going to stick to the CWG – if you want to know more about the other items worn and the history of spacesuits, take a look here.

Harrison Schmitt in a rare candid photo of an Apollo astronaut in their Constant Wear Garment. Credit: NASA

The CWG had some neat, and some quite gross, features. The images in the gallery below, courtesy of Daniel at Collect Space, show the various component parts and their uses in greater detail. In short though, the CWG had to have attachments and access holes for medical monitoring equipment – this included the dosimeters, which measured the amount of radiation that the astronaut was exposed to throughout their mission.

The medical monitoring equipment allowed doctors back at Mission Control to keep an eye on the astronauts. In the film of Apollo 13 (spoiler alert!!), the crew rip some of these biomedical electrodes from their chests – giving the doctors a fright, as the crew’s heart-rate monitors suddenly started reading zero!

It might not have been quite so dramatic in the real Apollo 13, but the crew likely did remove some of these uncomfortable probes.

Apollo-era Fecal Containment Device

I mentioned gross features above though, so there’s no avoiding an explanation. So, here goes:

The CWG had openings in the front and the back for going to the toilet in the microgravity of space. Not a pleasant experience, considering that Apollo astronauts were in a vehicle not much bigger than a car – and they had two co-workers alongside them most of the time. Oh, and I should also mention that they didn’t have a toilet either!

Instead, they had to dispose of their waste in special bags known as an Apollo Fecal Containment Device – like the one pictured here, another recent addition to our Apollo collection.

Essentially a bag the astronauts stuck to their backside before ‘doing their business’, this device also had a finger sleeve that was used to ‘help things along’ without gravity’s normal assistance. Ah, the glamourous life of an astronaut.

Cylindrical Oxidizer Tank for the Lunar Module Reaction Control System

Moving swiftly on, we have also acquired an Oxidizer Tank from the Reaction Control System of a Lunar Module. A reaction control system is used to manoeuvre a flying vehicle when you can’t use the atmosphere – like aeroplanes do with their ailerons, rudders and elevators, as explained here.

Reaction control systems were first seen back in the 1950s, as experimental planes like the X-15 began testing the boundaries of flying in the upper reaches of the atmosphere. The capability of reaction control systems to move vehicles around in the vacuum of space became a crucial part of spaceflight.

The Reaction Control System (RCS) for the Apollo Lunar Module was used to orientate it during its descent to and return from the Moon’s surface. This Oxidizer Tank was designed to hold Nitrogen Tetroxide, which would be combined with a Hydrazine/Dimethylhydrazine fuel and ignited in one of sixteen strategically placed nozzles. Arranged in four groups of four, the nozzles allowed the RCS to fire the resulting hot gas in different directions to make minor adjustments to the way the Lunar Module faced.

Although the Lunar Module had larger engines that did most of the heavy work for landing on and taking-off from the Moon, the RCS was an essential part of making the journey possible.

Shipping container, from Grumman to North American Rockwell. Note the red 'LEM' stamp, standing for Lunar Excursion Module
NASA Manned Spacecraft Center Spacecraft Parts Tag for the Oxidizer Tank

Arriving in the original transport box with a 1:1 scale technical drawing, the Oxidizer Tank also has a paperwork trail declaring it flightworthy. Manufactured by Bell Aerospace, working for the Lunar Module manufacturer, Grumman, it was shipped to North American Rockwell, who made the Command/Service Module for the Apollo spacecraft.

We don’t know why it wasn’t used, but ‘flight-spares’ are often made when making spacecraft – as you never know when you might need them. The NASA Manned Spacecraft Center Spacecraft Parts Tag for the Tank (see pic), is dated 12 March 1970. This means that this Tank was produced around the time that the Lunar Module design was being modified for the later Apollo missions. The addition of the Lunar Rover from the Apollo 15 mission onwards led to a series of design changes. Although the Reaction Control System didn’t change much, this Tank may simply have found itself surplus to requirements.

Although these great objects cannot be seen in our Exhibition just yet, we have many more cool space ‘things’ already on display for your attention. But, in 2019, the 50th anniversary year for the Moon landings, we will be displaying these new objects and many more Apollo related artefacts for our visitors to enjoy. Items never seen before on public display in the UK will help us mark one of the greatest achievements in human history.

Keep your eyes peeled for more information on our plans to celebrate Apollo in the coming year, as we share some remarkable objects and stories with you.

About the author: Dan Kendall is the Curator at the National Space Centre.