Science Art: The Goodrich XH-5 Tomato-Worm Suit


from to embiggen

This might be the greatest contribution gardening ever made to space travel.

In the middle of World War II, engineers were trying to figure out how to make pressurized suits for military pilots who were going into ever-thinner layers of the atmosphere. One problem was once you’re on the inside of an inflated balloon, even one with arms and legs, it gets really hard to move. If you bend, the pressure goes up even farther. You tend to just… outstretch.

Goodrich engineer Russell Colley was one of the folks trying to get pilots to bend at the elbow and knee, and had a sudden insight while contemplating a garden pest: “I watched a tomato worm bend about 90 degrees, and the pressure in the worm did not change as far as I could see. It did not increase in diameter; so I tried it on
the suit.” The result was this, the Goodrich XH-5, an important step on the way to the first space suit. Maybe even a larval form of one?

Anyway, I first read about it in Lloyd Mallan’s Suiting Up for Space, but the image came from NASA’s ebook Dressing for Altitude by Dennis R. Jenkins.