Space travel and its accompanying technological advances developed rapidly in the 20th and 21st centuries, impacting the scientific development of mankind, as well as political structure on a global scale. Since the 20th century, space exploration and technological development have been a scientific luxury usually reserved for the world's political superpowers, and as such, the development of space suits has been entrusted to those powerful few.
The visual evolution of space suits demonstrates the development of the Space Race in the context of the Cold War; both the United States and the USSR were fighting to establish technogical dominance over one another. Both nations developed their own suits for their specific needs, and the distinctions between these suits indicates the economic capabilities of each nation - or the lack thereof.
Tracking the economic and political development of a nation through their space suits is interesting in its own right. However, space suits can also display history on a much grander scale: they demonstrate humanity's ability to explore the unknown through science and progressively adapt to their environment. Using combined resources from government institutions, the best aerospace engineering schools, and private companies, humankind has been able to explore a realm that, for the majority of history, has been understood only as a grand, mysterious void.
Space exploration provides us with new information about our place in the universe, as well as astronaut stories of oddities we would never expect to see if it weren't for the space suit.
1965: Berkut Space Suit, USSR
The Berkut space suit improved on its predecessor, the SK-1, with an internal life-support system. Rather than an employing an external umbilical cord to supply air into the suit, oxygen was circulated through an open-cycle environmental control system between oxygen tanks - located in the suit's backpack - and the rest of the suit.
1966-69: Yastreb Space Suit, USSR
The Yastreb space suit was the first Russian suit designed specifically for extravehicular activity. As such, the suit was designed to be flexible and lightweight. It had an external pulley system, which provided extra mobility, and a compact life support system in order to easily maneuver around the smaller Soyuz rockets.
1968-75: Apollo/Skylab A7L Space Suit, United States
Unlike the Gemini space suit, Apollo space suits were designed for use on the Moon; thus, they were required to sustain livable temperatures in the suit's interior during the hot lunar day and offer protection against jagged rocks. Simultaneously, the suits needed to be flexible so astronauts could grab rock samples from the Moon's surface.
The Apollo suits featured a protective outer layer, a portable life-support backpack with seven hours' worth of air, a liquid-cooling system, and a helmet fixed on the suit with an external helmet attachment to block out UV rays and keep internal temperatures cool.
1969: Krechet-94, USSR
The Krechet-94 was a Russian space suit designed for lunar exploration. To don the suit, astronauts had to enter a hatch connected to the suit's external backpack life-support system.
Like its American counterpart, the Apollo space suit, the Krechet-94 featured protective outlayers, a reflective visor to keep out UV radiation, and an internal cooling system. This suit, however, had the added benefit of no external tubing.