For decades, an old astronaut dummy sat collecting dust at the National Air and Space Museum’s (NASM) warehouse in Suiteland, Maryland. No one knew what it was, and passerbys often wondered why it was there and for what purpose.
When rumors started to swirl and travel about the mysterious dummy, Mike Slowik, a businessman in Chicago, contacted Paul Ceruzzi, the curator of NASM's Paul E. Garbers storage facility. Slowik told Ceruzzi that his late father had originally made the astronaut dummy to test spacesuits. The mystery was solved!
In the early 1960's, Joe Slowik, an engineer and Mike Slowik's father, created the astronaut dummy for NASA at the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago. He created it because NASA needed a way to evaluate different spacesuit designs. His dummy weighed 230 pounds, and its height was adjustable from five feet and six inches to six feet and two inches. It could raise its legs and arms, run in place, and even move its hips like Elvis Presley. But there was one huge problem—the dummy leaked.
“One of the great technical challenges had been that hydraulic valves small enough to use in the dummy couldn’t be made sufficiently strong enough to handle the fluid pressure required to move the joints of a pressurized spacesuit,” Andrew Chaikin, author of a piece about the space suit in the Smithsonian, stated. To contain the leaking oil, workers at NASA put the dummy in a scuba diver’s suit.
Unfortunately, this quick fix didn't completely solve the problem and the dummy never got to do its job. Still, Joe Slowik was “very proud of it,” said his son Mike Slowik. And rightfully so—the design of Slowik's dummy paved the way for the models currently used by NASA today.