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Obituaries in the News

July 15, 2002

Siegfried Hansen

LOS ANGELES (AP) _ Siegfried Hansen, an electrical engineer who 50 years ago pioneered the hard space suit now used in NASA missions, died June 28 of pneumonia. He was 90.

The space suit originated with Hansen’s quest to improve the vacuum tube, a key component of electronic devices such as early television sets.

Hansen felt that the only way to improve the tube was to test it from the inside, so he and his colleagues designed a suit to be worn in the airless atmosphere of a vacuum.

Unlike previous pressure suits, Hansen’s 50-pound Mark I suit maintained constant volume and geometry, which allowed wearers to breathe inside a vacuum and bend their arms a full 90 degrees.

When transistor technology rendered the vacuum tube obsolete, scientists saw a secondary use for Hansen’s brainchild _ a suit that could sustain humans as they worked outside a spacecraft above Earth’s atmosphere.

Called ``the father of the EVA,″ or extravehicular activity suit, Hansen modeled it on the cover of Look magazine in December 1957, two months before the Russians launched Sputnik.

Hansen was born in San Francisco and majored in electrical engineering at the University of Washington in Seattle. During World War II, Hansen lived in London and helped design early radar systems before working on vacuum tubes for General Electric in New York. Hansen owned what may have been the first television in Schenectady, N.Y.

In 1946, he moved to California and joined Hughes Aircraft and tested new radar equipment with the company’s eccentric founder, Howard Hughes, as the test pilot.

Hansen headed to Litton Industries in the 1950s, where he worked on the vacuum tube project.

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