The PVC pressure suit
This week in 1954
The pressure suit has helped humankind achieve some of its most spectacular feats, whether it be discovering the depths of the ocean or exploring the hostile environment of space.
It’s unfortunate then that during these periods of major historic significance, no one has been able to come up with a suit that is more flattering than the one pictured.
The problem has always been overheating and mobility. The image above comes from The Engineer’s 1954 archive and shows a design of plastic clothing created by Bletchley-based Plysu Products.
At the time, the suit was used by the atomic energy establishments at Harwell and Windscale to protect their employees against radioactive dust and particles. Made from PVC sheet, all seams in the suit were electronically welded to ensure they were air-tight.
’The top of the clothing consists of a jacket and integral transparent hood, the lower half combining trousers and overboots. The two halves button together at the waist and are sealed by a two-inch wide strip of ’Cellophane’ tape,’ said the report.
“The suit’s two halves are then sealed by a strip of Cellophane”
Even today, issues of comfort in pressure suits still pose a problem. Over the past few years, institutions such as Brunel University have been attempting to come up with a solution by modelling the thermofluid domain between the inner surface of pressure suits and undergarments, as well as heat transfer, human metabolism and respiration.
In 1954, the designers believed they had solved the issue: ’A compressed air line fitted to the hood maintained an internal excess pressure of ½lb per square the air escaping through a valve at the back.’
The air flow produced, it claimed, would be sufficient to keep the wearer comfortably cool and prevent condensation inside the hood. Moving around, however, would be another matter.