The spacesuit used in Sunshine looks funny with all the gold. Also, the helmet has a rectangular visor, not like a round visor to see.

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Why is the spacesuit design so strange in Sunshine?

  • Would costume or props be the better tag here? I'd say costume but it could be considered to be a mixture of both.
    – Napoleon Wilson
    Oct 14, 2016 at 14:19
  • I recall at one screening Danny brought up the overall design concept was a nod towards Kenny in Southpark - who also incidentally dies a lot IIRC Jan 11, 2023 at 0:38

3 Answers 3


It seems to be specifically tailored for its use in close proximity to very high solar radiation. Remember that the team in Sunshine has to operate in very high sunlight and the dangerous effects of the sun are a major motif of the film, which the design of the spacesuit reflects (pun intended) very well.

The golden foil plating is supposed to reflect most of the incoming heat radiation and is similar to the common space blankets employed e.g. by fire rescuers or ambulances. And the very thin visor reduces the visor area (which is itself more sensitive to radiation, not to speak of the vulnerability of the eyes) as much as possible while still providing the wearer with (at least minimal) vision.

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    "dangerous effects of the sun are a major motif of the film" I recall some interesting comments from the director about how in horror films the dark is made out to be scary, whereas in his film, he had to make the light scary. The space suit might be seen as an extension of those efforts. Oct 14, 2016 at 13:58
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    Gold also has a decently high atomic number and therefore can be used for some measure of gamma & x-ray shielding. see also: physics.stackexchange.com/questions/74412/…
    – Yorik
    Oct 14, 2016 at 19:38
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    @Yorik: There's no real reason to assume that the vaguely golden color comes from actual gold, though. A lot of the "gold foil" seen on spacecraft and such is actually Kapton plastic, with or without an aluminum coating. Even if some of it is actual metal, there are plenty of golden-colored metals, such as bronze and various other copper alloys, that contain no actual gold. Oct 15, 2016 at 6:38
  • NASA definitely uses gold in some measure, but most of those foils are laminates. Bronze/brass/tin alloys and silver oxidize and they become useless as a reflector. The plastics and mylar type sheeting is good for UV protection. NASA tends to use the right material for the job, so there is no reason to think that e.g. human protection is governed by the same rules as e.g. heat protection for equipment.
    – Yorik
    Oct 19, 2016 at 13:43
  • They would use gold as a reflective material for short-wave length radiation. It's the most effective material for this job, and given their mission the Earth wouldn't spare any expense.
    – Reactgular
    Oct 20, 2016 at 17:59

It also appears to be inspired by the suits used by foundry workers and industrial firefighters for working in close proximity to intense radiant heat. Here the suit is constructed from some heat resistant fibre such as nomex, Kevlar or glass fibre and coated with a thin layer of aluminium which is effective at reflecting away radiant heat without adding too much weight.

Note that these suits are very much about protecting against radiant heat rather than direct contact with flame (where the suits worn by racing drivers and combat pilots would be a better model).

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I think the narrow vision slit has to be put down to artistic license to some extent.

The closest modern analogy for the vision slit is welding masks which have to protect against faily intense UV and IR radiation and tend to have a fairly restricted field of view but even the it tends to be a lot closer to square than a narrow slit.

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The thin visor is an example of https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Snow_goggles . Snow goggles are used to prevent snow blindness, from sun light reflecting off the white white snow. Mainly, it reduces the amount of UV light which is the damaging aspect of sunlight. The small slit controls the amount of light that can get in. Tunnel vision does happen with it, but it prevents burning out your corona or retinas. Good trade off I guess. It also helps prevent snow from getting in your eyes. The same is done in the desert for similar reasons.

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When commercial protection like sunglasses are not available, some survival guides suggest making these snow goggles from a dark cloth.

In the movie, the spacesuit is tasked with protecting the user from extreme exposure to the sun. The slit, even in conjunction with UV blocking glass or other technology, would help reducing the risk of flash frying the eyes. UV glass alone may not be enough that close to the mega nuclear reactor that is a sun.

  • In general, snow goggles have as wide a field of view as they can, and they control brightness with tinting, like you'd see on a car window. There may be some point in the past where they did as you suggest, but I certainly haven't seen it in remotely modern goggles. The field of view restriction is just a functional tradeoff from balancing other requirements, like keeping the snow (or sand) out of your eyes, being cheap to produce, comfortable to wear, stowing in a small space, and not fogging up.
    – MichaelS
    Oct 15, 2016 at 1:11
  • Suspect this is a reference to improvised sun/snow goggles in which the recommendation is to use small slits to reduce total amount of light coming in. Oct 15, 2016 at 1:25
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    Not just improvised. This is the traditional method amongst first nation or Eskimo/inuit people.
    – cde
    Oct 15, 2016 at 1:47
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    Indeed it is a traditional solution, and fairly widely known, so the idea of a narrow slit as an attempt to mitigate glare is widespread - most people have probably even done this with their fingers on some sunny day. When something appears in a movie, you have to consider if it is there as much to resonate with audience beliefs, as much as to be a technically ideal solution for the situation portrayed. They probably could have an opaque visor with a video display and remote mutlispectral cameras but that wouldn't play well on screen. Oct 15, 2016 at 23:13
  • @chrisstratton sure it could. Iron Man. :)
    – cde
    Oct 15, 2016 at 23:55

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