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In a recent discussion on another forum someone pointed to Niven's 1967 "Flatlander" as depicting a space suit that was a single skin-tight garment (except for a neck seal and a helmet) optionally covered with a separate protective/insulating layer (as required).

I'm not sure I recall it being depicted that way (I don't recall an oversuit being described), but I know that Pournelle used that exact pattern for his Mars suits in Birth of Fire (1976).

What was the first work that described a skintight garment to retain pressure by mechanical pressure against the skin (instead of a layer of pressurized atmosphere), with additional (more easily changed) over-layers for insulation/armour/etc.?

Based on requests for clarification, I'm looking for a space suit; an air-tight pressure suit for use in vacuum or extremely low pressure environments. It should completely cover the body, leaving no exposed skin, except for the head which should be enclosed in a helmet. This likely requires fiction that recognizes space as being a vacuum, or another planet or body having extremely low atmospheric pressure (less than a survivable level, so at most 0.06 bar).

I'm willing to accept a speculative article or essay (similar to a Popular Science-style future-tech "this is how the future might be" article) that examines the idea in a factual way as well as the use of the idea in fiction.

I'm not interested in a pulp cover depiction of a form-fitting space suit done purely for aesthetic reasons; this needs to be an intended design, with the skin suit explicitly maintaining the body's internal pressure. A clue would be the wearing of additional outer layers to protect against radiation, micrometeors, extreme temperature, chemicals/dust, etc.

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    This Wikipedia article suggests that the spacesuits in early Buck Rogers comics "seem to be skintight." By the way, can you allow nonfiction-based answers and still have the question be on topic for this site?
    – user14111
    Oct 5, 2021 at 6:07
  • Maybe the question should be about fairly realistic spacesuits. The early Buck Rogers spacesuits left,faces, hands and (female) legs bare, as can be seen in this image: i.pinimg.com/474x/c1/df/22/… Oct 5, 2021 at 7:09
  • Mabye those were not spacesuits but travel-on-other-worlds-whch-have breathable-air-suits. It wouldn't be odd if every Buck Rogers comic strips depicted other worlds with breathable atmospheres, even those worlds least likely to have them. Oct 5, 2021 at 17:00
  • @user14111 My wording could have been better; I was trying to contrast non-narrative fiction (e.g. speculative essays, like "Probability Zero" columns in Analog) from narrative fiction (short stories, novels).
    – DavidW
    Oct 5, 2021 at 19:44
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    @winchellChung. I'm not sure if this would match. The description does specify 'lighter materials. But the story was written in 1898. The diver's suits of that era were not the rubberized skintight scuba suits of today. They looked more like the diving suits at the following: gizmodo.com/… Excerpt: "Mr. Edison had provided for this emergency by inventing an air-tight dress constructed somewhat after the manner of a diver's suit, but of much lighter material. Each ship was provided with several of these suits."
    – beichst
    Oct 7, 2021 at 0:47

4 Answers 4

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The earliest example I know that isn't Heinlein's hyper-advanced alien tech was John Brunner's The Stardroppers (full-length stand-alone 1973), originally published in Analog as a novella under the title "Listen, the Stars" in 1962 and republished in an Ace Double in 1963.

In this, almost as a throw-away, some of those who explore using the titular new technology wear wet suits and scuba tanks for short-term vacuum protection. Skin protection and overall pressure support is by the skin-tight closed-cell neoprene material, while one must presume that the regulators are modified to provide positive pressure in vacuum and that there's enough chest and abdomen compression to permit exhalation against a minimum of about half an atmosphere in the regulator. This method was copied almost verbatim in Roger Zelazny's Blood of Amber (in the second Amber pentology), allowing Luke to bypass the barriers to reaching Ghostwheel.

Few details are provided in the novel, likely because the appearance was two small mentions a few pages apart, very much incidental to the main story -- but it's obvious Brunner was aware you don't need government-level technology for short term vacuum exposure.

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  • This sounds exactly like what I'm looking for!
    – DavidW
    Oct 8, 2021 at 13:30
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I would suggest the first story that had a true skintight type of space suit (along with an invisible force field helmet as a bonus) was the 1958 Heinlein story Have Space Suit - Will Travel. In fact the story explicitly makes a contrast of the skintight version with the prevailing image of space suits at that time.

*She was wearing silvery tights, plus a little hump like a knapsack. She looked cute but not glamorous, for she was built like two sticks and this get-up emphasized it.

"Very fancy," I said. "Are you learning to be an acrobat?"

"Don't be silly, Kip; it's my new space suit—a real one."

I glanced at Oscar, big and bulky and filling the closet and said privately, "Hear that, chum?"

("It takes all kinds to make a world.")

"Your helmet won't fit it, will it?"

She giggled. "I'm wearing it."

"You are? 'The Emperor's New Clothes'?"

"Pretty close. Kip, disconnect your prejudices and listen. This is like the Mother Thing's suit except that it's tailored for me. My old suit wasn't much good—and that cold cold about finished it. But you'll be amazed at this one. Take the helmet. It's there, only you can't see it. It's a field. Gas can't go in or out."*

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  • This answer doesn't really satisfy me because it's alien magi-tech, and it's also not clear that it really is a skinsuit as opposed to containing a layer of air (which, given the rest, would also have been worthy of noting as a difference).
    – DavidW
    Oct 8, 2021 at 13:08
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One possibility that you might consider is Gerry Anderson's Fireball XL5 (from 1962) where Steve, Matt and Venus don't actually wear any space suit. They breathe in the vacuum of space using "oxygen pills". The ultimate skin suit being skin!

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EDIT: As DavidW pointed out in the comments I didn't remember this correctly. The text of the novel clearly suggest they were too bulky to be skintights.
I leave my original answer below.


I'm not a 100% sure and I don't have the book here to check.

But I seem to recall that Black Destroyer (1937) by A.E. van Vogt had such space-suits.
He later (1950) re-used the novella as a significant part of the novel "Voyage of the Space Beagle".

(Could be the space-suits are in Voyage and not in Destroyer. But 1950 is still earlier than the other answers so far.)

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  • I checked this one out, and the way the metalite suits are described, it is unlikely they are skintight, since that would require metal to be rather thin: "Great chunks of metal, torn piecemeal from the suit, sprayed the ground." You wouldn't describe fabric as "chunks," and metal thick enough to be in chunks wouldn't be flexible enough to be skintight.
    – DavidW
    Oct 8, 2021 at 20:37
  • And further (this quote from Voyage of the Space Beagle) "The lowest level of the room was an auditorium with about a hundred comfortable chairs. They were big enough to hold men wearing space suits" which would not be necessary to note if the suits were no more than a second skin for the wearers.
    – DavidW
    Oct 8, 2021 at 20:50
  • @DavidW Thank you for checking. As I already said I wasn't a 100% sure. It has been a few years since my last read of the novel. I somehow had a mental image in which these spacesuits were not very bulky, but memory can play weird tricks on you.
    – Tonny
    Oct 10, 2021 at 11:01

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