With a $250K Ticket to Space, Virgin Galactic Civilian Astronauts Will Be Outfitted in This Customized Spacesuit

Courtesy Virgin Galactic
Richard Branson in his customized Under Armour suit, which will hold photos of his family when he goes into space

Branson modeled his own Under Armour-designed spacesuit, including a commemorative jacket with a lining featuring an image of his face composed of tiny spaceplanes, to wear on the first-ever commercial flight to space.

It’s half the fun to dress up for space as it is to go there. Just ask a handful of the passengers — dubbed "future astronauts" by Virgin Galactic — who are preparing for their once-in-a-lifetime journey to outer space. For many, including Virgin Galactic founder and chairman Richard Branson, it is a dream that has been years in the making. The journey came one step closer to reality with the reveal, on Wednesday morning, of the uniform that will be worn by civilians who will be on board Virgin Galactic’s flights to the edge of space, which are expected to begin next year.

The collection, designed and developed by Under Armour, includes a base layer, the spacesuit, a training suit, footwear and a limited-edition jacket, tailored to each Virgin Galactic customer, or "future astronaut," who paid $250,000 for their ticket to space.

At the launch, dancers showed off the suits, as they floated in the zero gravity chamber of an indoor sky-diving venue in Yonkers, New York, before Branson modeled his own spacesuit, which comes with a commemorative jacket featuring  an image of his face composed of tiny spaceplanes on the inner lining. He will be wearing it on the inaugural commercial spaceflight of Virgin Galactic’s VSS Unity.

"Spacesuits are a part of the iconography of the first space age; our visual impressions of human spaceflight and what astronauts wear are inextricably linked," said Branson. "Requirements for astronaut spacewear as we enter the second space age are evolving, but the design challenge has not diminished. We were delighted when [CEO] Kevin [Plank] and Under Armour stepped up to this task and they have surpassed our expectations. I love the way the spacewear looks and I love the way it feels. I also love the fact that the next time I put it on, I will be on my way to space."

The spacesuit is royal blue in color, with pops of gold on it, together with the Virgin Galactic flight DNA symbols and logo, as well as the phrase "We Stand on the Shoulders of Giants," inspired by a quote from Sir Isaac Newton, written on the sock-liners. It is made from lightweight "flight-grade" fabrics, with cushioning in elbows, knees and in the footwear, to provide safety in out-of-seat zero gravity. The suits are designed to integrate with the harness and seat contours of the spacecraft, to ensure comfort, particularly during the high G portions of flight. Plus, the material is made from special yarn that Under Armour says can help regulate body temperature.

Each passenger will have the opportunity to customize their gear, by adding name badges and flags from their home countries onto the suit. There is also a place to write a mission statement — a reminder of the personal reason why they are traveling to space — and hidden pockets near the heart to stow personal items to take along on this rare trip. Branson says passengers should leave their cellphones behind. "I certainly won’t take up a camera or a phone," he said. "We’ve got lots and lots of camera and equipment to capture people’s flights. We want people to look out the window and take it all in. I think, like anybody, I will take up pictures of my family — my five grandchildren, my children, Sam and Holly, my delightful wife Joan, my mum, and my dad, although he’s no longer with us. I’ll have them tucked away."

Under Armour researched what passengers on board Virgin Galactic’s rocket-powered plane will experience, which, at the peak of the flight, will be a few minutes of weightlessness, when they can peer out the plane's windows into outer space. Because of the short time of the flight, passengers won't have to wear the same type of protective gear required of NASA astronauts.

"I really wanted Under Armour to be the brand that creates the kit that goes to space," said Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank. "It began with a friendship a decade ago." To which Branson joked, "So that’s why you were friends with me?" The two shared a laugh before Branson went on to praise Under Armour for the spacesuits they created. "Just look at these boots!" Branson marveled, as he showed off the snug-fitting, ankle-high royal blue shoes, made of Under Armour’s HOVR technology, which matches the royal blue color of the suits.

"It started with the idea of what commercial space travel could be and Richard laying the vision out," said Plank. "I think it was a simple conversation of, ‘What are they going to wear?’ While the ability to keep the astronauts comfortable and safe is important, more than that, it’s the ability to have something that reminds them of this experience. So mobility, pliability, flexibility are the things we built into the suit to make it unlike any other flight-suit, which are typically made of canvas, and stiff and very hard to wear."

As with the uniforms for Branson’s airline, Virgin Atlantic, the design of the spacesuits was driven by the people who are going to wear them. "Thirty-six years ago this year, we got together in a room, about 800 of our new staff, and we got [British fashion designer] Elizabeth Emanuel on stage, and she went through each person, asking 'You want the skirt how long?' She’d get a thumbs up, thumbs down, and they effectively designed their own suits," said Branson. "With this, the team at Under Armour worked day and night for about two years on this project. They flew to Morocco to do a test and get feedback, which was only positive. They went to the group of future astronauts and got feedback from them which they used as part of the design process."

The key was to create clothing that does not distract or feel uncomfortable. "We approached it like any other uniform deal," said Plank. "We start with understanding the needs of the athlete, the extreme conditions and how we can use our technology to overcome the challenges." In this case, the athletes are people who aren’t trained to be astronauts and who won’t be leaving the spacecraft.

"It’s all about savoring the space experience," said chief astronaut instructor at Virgin Galactic, Beth Moses, who has been to space and worked on the prototype. "Suits of the past were to perform a task. This is to enjoy and savor space in your own way. We don’t want to get too nitty-gritty," she said. "The suit should stay out of the way for folks to enjoy their experience in a bespoke way." That’s why it’s been designed for use after the flight itself is over, with passengers encouraged to wear the commemorative jacket to social events. One of the future astronauts, plans to wear her spacesuit to her children’s school, to talk about the experience of going to space. "And," she added, "every Halloween, for the rest of my life!"