The man who suited up astronauts during the 1960s passes away at 101


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R.I.P. Joseph Schmitt, the man who suited up all the astronauts during the 1960s, has passed away at 101.

Schmitt put Alan Shepard into his Freedom 7 capsule for the United States’ first spaceflight in May 1961, and he was still suiting up astronauts more than 20 years later, making sure everything was sealed and connected properly. Before any flight, he would spend long hours in the testing laboratory with the astronauts, getting them accustomed to their suits and troubleshooting problems.

He wrangled suits through the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo programs and into the space shuttle era, a span during which spacesuits went from being, essentially, modified military gear to high-tech creations that could protect an astronaut on a spacewalk or on a stroll on the moon.

An important man, but invisible at the time. In Genesis: the Story of Apollo 8 I included pictures of the three Apollo 8 astronauts getting suited up, with one picture including an unnamed technician in the background whom I now suspect was Schmtt. Until now, I had never even noticed the technician at all. The focus was the astronauts, which though reasonable is also not really thorough. Everyone should always be credited for what they do, especially when what they do is hard, historically significant, and has to be done right. What Schmitt did was all those things.

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