Southern thinks his suit might be a better candidate for that mission, because it’s more flexible and operates at higher pressurization than the ACES suit, reducing the risk of altitude sickness. It is also 14 lbs (6 kg) lighter, saving 100 lbs of weight for a full crew of seven astronauts—which may not sound like much, but remember that the cost of a rocket launch is measured in thousands of dollars per pound. FFD’s suits also cost $80,000 each, far less than the $250,000 spent on ACES suits.

Southern demonstrates the range of motion in FFD’s pressurized IVA suit.
Image: FFD

And the market is expanding. Both Boeing and SpaceX intend to fly humans into space in 2017, and it is not yet clear what they will wear. SpaceX is reportedly developing its own suit, though FFD has had several meetings with the company. Boeing remains mum, but Southern says he expects it to use one of the established contractors. Virgin Galactic is not planning to use pressure suits aboard its space plane, which will make only short flights above the atmosphere, but more serious missions—whether that’s bringing tourists to floating habitats in orbit or on the moon, as Bigelow Aerospace is mulling; mining asteroids, per Planetary Resources; or sending an expedition to Mars, a là NASA and SpaceX—will all involve long periods in space and tricky maneuvers in addition to launch and re-entry.

Even so, Southern and Moiseev concede that the market for space suits may not pick up fast enough for them to build a truly humming business beyond small contracts from NASA and a few other high-altitude entrepreneurs. But they hope to spin a sideline in terrestrial clothes out of their latest generation of space-suit designs.

For example, they see an opening in wearable tech, where they could use the experience garnered while creating the most extreme wearable technology in existence. They already market their “comm caps”—skull caps with built in radio gear used by astronauts—as headsets for gamers. Southern also showed me the prototype of a belt he is developing. Fitted with tiny, vibrating motors connected with electronic threads, it could relay directions to a pedestrian by feel, so she wouldn’t have to hold a mobile phone. I wished I’d had one when I was trying to find his offices.

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