Star Trek: Discovery's spacesuits take inspiration from technological advancements NASA are making in the real world. Futuristic technology has always been a huge part of Star Trek's generation-spanning appeal. It's fascinating to see the franchise take a wild guess at what gadgets, travel and weaponry might look like in the 23rd and 24th centuries but, in a strange paradox, Star Trek has actually served to inspire technology that is now commonplace. Tablets, for example, are regularly seen in the hands of Starfleet's finest in the original 1960s series, even if they are a lot bulkier than your average iPad.
Set shortly prior to the days of Kirk and Spock, Star Trek: Discovery feels a little closer to the technology viewers might have in their own homes, or would have seen on TV as the latest in cutting-edge space travel advancements. Of course, one of the most vital components in Star Trek: Discovery's arsenal of futuristic conveniences is the spacesuit. Even in the far future, humans need a way of surviving the harsh void of space and the outfits worn by Michael Burnham and others in Star Trek: Discovery aren't a far cry from those worn by astronauts today. Featuring a sleeker design and helmets with a visual data overlay, the spacesuits used aboard the Discovery share certain similarities with those found in 2019.
And there's a good reason for that. As revealed on the official Star Trek website, many parallels exist between the space suits seen in Star Trek: Discovery and their real life counterparts. One of the main features on the Discovery's suits is a thruster that allows characters to move through space of their own accord. While NASA has yet to build anything capable of rocketing through asteroids at high speed, 1984 saw the use of the MMU (Manned Maneuvering Unit) which included a nitrogen propulsion pack and twin control joysticks, allowing astronauts to move independently.
Funding issues have curtailed NASA's progress in this field, leaving private companies such as SpaceX to pick up the slack and, once again, technology is moving increasingly towards the Star Trek style. In terms of design, Star Trek: Discovery's spacesuits offer a far more ergonomic, flattering form, as opposed to the bulky diver costumes traditionally used by astronauts. While this may have as much to do with on-screen aesthetics as it does inspiration from real technology, SpaceX's IVA suit designs are eerily similar to those seen in recent Star Trek episodes, looking more like the gear worn by an F1 driver. Astronauts are praising new suit designs as offering increased flexibility and comfort and it's certainly not a stretch to think that, by 2256, these prototypes might've been perfected.
The biggest problem for these sleek suit designs is that they don't appear to offer the protection required while floating in the darkness of outer space. Modern spacesuits use thick layers to protect astronauts from radiation and extreme temperatures, but how could Burnham's do the same, while still looking relatively fashionable? While the technology isn't in full production today, theories regarding skin-tight, space-ready materials have been present since the 1950s. Instead of creating a pressurized bubble like regular spacesuits do, these more flexible designs would use mechanical counter-pressure to protect the wearer.
While this attention to detail and real-world influence may not be obvious from watching Star Trek: Discovery's space-faring cast in action, it does add an extra layer of realism to a series that regularly finds itself on the fringes of possibility. Star Trek will always be a fantasy, but its success hinges on viewers believing these unbelievable events could one day come to pass. By grounding Starfleet's technology in what is actually available today, Star Trek enhances the viewing experience for those who are well-versed in the intricacies of NASA technology and for those who are none the wiser.
Star Trek: Discovery season 3 is currently without a release date. More news as it arrives.