CLOSE
NASA/Johnson Space Center
NASA/Johnson Space Center

15 Secrets of Space Suit Design

NASA/Johnson Space Center
NASA/Johnson Space Center

It’s no secret that astronauts couldn’t survive the harsh environment of space without their suits. But there are plenty of things you might not know about how these suits go from concept to prototype to the final frontier. We asked Lindsay Aitchison, Space Suit Engineer at the Advanced Space Suit Design Group at NASA’s Johnson Space Center, to walk us through the process.

1. Designing space suits requires a particular set of skills.

And they’re not necessarily the ones you might think. Aitchison says the job requires both critical thinking and creativity. “You need to be detail-oriented and come up with a very precise test plan,” she says. “When you’re working with human test subjects, you have to design a test where you get constructive feedback on things that are squishy subjects, like comfort. How do you define comfort? You have to think about it from an engineering standpoint and engineer a suit to be comfortable.” Thinking creatively, Aitchison says, allows her to see how technologies from different fields might be incorporated into space suit design.

2. Suits are crafted for their missions.

When creating a new suit, Aitchison says NASA’s engineers must answer two questions to help them determine the structure of the suit: Where are you going and what are you doing?

The engineers start with where the astronaut is going, which falls into two categories: A micro-gravity location or a planetary environment, where they’ll have to walk (which determines how much mobility they’ll need in their suit). The engineers also consider things like how high radiation might be, the temperature ranges an astronaut will experience, and the risks of micro-meteoroids.

Next, engineers have to think about what astronauts will be doing on their missions: Will they be walking on their hands, as they would in micro-gravity, or walking on their feet, as they would on a planetary surface? Will they be digging with tools, or carrying everything on a toolbelt and performing tasks with their upper body? Will they need to be autonomous? “If you're on a planetary surface, that's pretty far from earth, so we're trying to develop more technologies so that you do autonomously EVAs,” Aitchison says, “whereas [on] space stations, you have a lot more direct contact with the flight control team, so we can offload some of those informatics and rely on flight control to help us.”

3. New Suits Need New Shoes.

EMU suit; photo courtesy of NASA.

The suit most people are familiar with is the Extravehicular Mobility Unit (EMU) suit. Because it's designed for use in micro-gravity—in which astronauts use their hands to move themselves around—to make repairs and modifications to the International Space Station (ISS), telescopes, and more during spacewalks, it needs to have mobility in the shoulders, hands, and arms. "You use the lower area [of the suit] for stability, so that way you have a stable work platform if you're at the end of a robotic arm," Aitchison says. "If it's too loosey goosey, you can't get any work done."

But new space suits, including the new Z-2, are being designed to go to planetary environments, so Aitchison and other designers spent a lot of time focusing on the design of the waist and hip joints—and the shoes. "This is the first time since Apollo that we need to have a walking boot, and when you're walking in different gravity fields, the way you walk changes," Aitchison says. "So we're focusing on how to design a boot to work with how you walk in, say, Martian or Lunar gravity environments. It's very different from the EMU, which is just a hard-soled boot."

To figure out what kind of shoe they'd want on their new suits, Aitchison did a number of walking tests with different suits in 2008. "We had [the suits] offloaded to different gravity weights, so if you were walking on a treadmill, it felt like you were walking at 3/8 gravity or 1/6 gravity because [a rig] was holding up the weight of the suit," she says. The team placed motion capture markers on the lower half of the suit to analyze how the foot, ankle, and hips were moving at different gravities. "We noticed through our testing that people tend to swing their hips up and sort of gallop [in different gravities], so if you pay attention to that, you can figure out where you need to have flexibility versus stiffness in the sole [of the shoe] to make that motion easier."

Though the team is still evaluating designs, Aitchison says that they're currently looking at a hiking boot sole. "It's pretty stiff in the forefoot but it's got some flexibility in the mid foot so you can sort of do those kneeling tasks."

4. The goal is to make new suits lighter.

Apollo suit; photo courtesy of NASA.

The EMU weighs a whopping 300 pounds (the astronauts, of course, don't feel that weight in microgravity). The Apollo suits, including backpacks, weighed 180 pounds on Earth and just 30 pounds on the Moon, by comparison—but, Aitchison says, "they didn't have a lot of mobility to them." The goal for new suits is to make them lighter while maintaining mobility. "When we add mobility, we're talking about adding hard elements like bearings, which make it very easy to work in a pressurized suit but come with a mass penalty," Aitchison says. "So we're trying to figure out low mass solutions for having those hard elements. We're looking at titanium because that saves us about 30 percent of mass on the bearings when we do that. And then [we're] looking at new types of composite materials for the upper torso material and for the hips and the brief section of the suit."

The new Z-2 will be about 20 pounds lighter than the EMU, "which doesn't seem like much," Aitchison acknowledges. "But again, we're adding in all the capability of the lower torso that we haven't had before."

5. Design starts by playing with old prototypes.

Once the where and the what are figured out, it’s time to get down to designing. The Advanced Space Suit Group has prototypes from the last 30 years of suits, as well as shuttle suits and suits from the Apollo era. “We start by testing those suits and understanding the different features,” Aitchison says. “What type of shoulder works best for what type of activity, different designs of the hips and boots and the style of entry. Do you want to have a zipper? All those things.” Playing with those features allows the engineers to sketch out what parts of different suits would be best for a particular mission.

6. NASA Scientists design the suits, but private companies make them.

Two-dimensional rendering of the "Technology" version of the Z-2 suit. Photo courtesy of NASA/Johnson Space Center.

Testing of the suits, and sketching up the designs, happens in house. But when it comes time to build, NASA turns its designs over to private companies. “We write the requirements and give the general concept of what we want built for us, and we have vendors that will build the suits for us, to the specifications that we write,” Aitchison says. The engineers work on one suit at a time, but since the start of Constellation in 2005, they’ve been getting prototypes every three to five years.

7. Certain parts of the suits are hand sewn.

In the Apollo era, space suits were sewn together by hand. You might think, with advances in technology, that this practice would have gone the way of the dodo, but that's not the case.

A little space suit anatomy: The innermost layer of the space suit, called the bladder—"think of that as basically being the balloon that holds all the air inside of it," Aitchison says—is sealed and welded together by a machine. On top of that is the restraint layer, which gives the bladder strength and structure. "It makes sure [the bladder] bends to that specific location and it takes all of the loads of the suit to protect that bladder from too much force when you bend your elbow or if you put pressure onto it," Aitchison says.

The restraint layer is the part of the suit that's still hand stitched. "There is a room full of sewers with different types of sewing machines, depending on what part of the suit they're stitching, and they can do some very precision sewing by hand," Aitchison says. "Like a 16th of an inch in some places, and they are incredible at that." The sewers use specific types of thread for certain locations, depending on whether they need more strength or elasticity in that section.

8. But they're still cutting edge.

Engineers used 3D human laser scans and 3D-printed hardware to develop and size the Z-2 suit—the first time that's ever been done.

9. Suits are allowed to leak.

But not a lot. According to Aitchison, the whole suit is allowed to leak a maximum of 100 SCCM (standard cubic centimeters per minute). To ensure the suit doesn't leak, and that it's meeting the requirements determined by the designers, its parts are rigorously tested during the fabrication process. Seam allowances are measured with rulers, and samples are purposely destroyed to ensure they meet the required strength characteristics. "[Testers] pull out a machine to see how much force it takes to rip either the seam or the fabric itself," Aitchison says.

When the designers receive the full suit, it, too, undergoes testing. "We do structural and linkage testing, which means we inflate the suit to 1.5 times its regular operating pressure—which is 4.3 PSI when we're doing a space walk—to make sure that it's structurally sound, we're not seeing any windowing at the seams or have any leaks," Aitchison says. "And then after we do the structural [test], we go back down to regular operating pressure and redo the leak check."

10. There are no custom space suits.

It's not cost effective to build one suit for every crewmember. Instead, the suits are constructed using a modular system, which is part of why they're so bulky. "When you have mix and match components, we tend to make it a little bit larger, so that we can fit a wider population of people," Aitchison says. "We have different components—basically small, medium, large sorta fit—so we can mix and match components between different sized crew. That way it helps us with logistics and with redundancy on the space station, too." (Currently, the space station has enough components for four full Extravehicular Mobility Unit, or EMU, suits, as well as a number of replacement parts.) Having a modular system also makes things easier with repairs: If one part breaks, engineers can simply replace the part instead of building a whole new suit.

11. Designers focus on one suit at a time.

Given all the testing and design requirements that go into a suit, it's probably not surprising that engineers take it one suit at a time. "We want to understand what does and doesn't work before we build our next iteration," Aitchison says. From concept to design to prototype to testing, "it takes a long time to build a new suit. It takes over a year." Fabrication on the Z-2 suit will begin this month; it will be completed in August, at which point, testing will begin.

12. Astronauts must don a number of layers before they even put on their suits.

That scene from Gravity where Sandra Bullock pulls off her EMU suit and emerges in nothing but a tank top and her undies? Pure bunk. Real astronauts wear several layers under their suits.

First comes a maximum absorbency garment, or MAG, "which is basically a diaper with extra absorption in it," Aitchison says. "That's your waste management system." Over that are comfort undergarments, form-fitting long johns that keep an astronaut comfortable while he or she is wearing the liquid cooling garment. "It provides skin cooling when you're inside your suit and you're working really hard," Aitchison says. "We don't want you to build up a sweat, so we have cold water running in tubes all over your body that pick up heat from your skin and reject it back out to space."

13. There are ways to make a pressurized suit.

Photo courtesy of MIT

Anyone going into space needs to have pressure on their body to keep it functioning normally; the minimum PSI required for bodily functions like inflating the lungs and keeping the blood flowing is 2.5 PSI. (A little more than that, Aitchison points out, is even better.) To accomplish that, astronauts need either a gas-pressurized suit—which is what NASA uses—or a suit that uses mechanical counter pressure (MCP), like the one developed at MIT (above). "You can kind of think of [MCP] as a very tight wet suit," Aitchison says. "It's got to create the same amount of pressure that we get from the gas around us just by pressing on the skin with the suit itself."

NASA looked at a mechanical pressure suit, developed by Dr. Paul Webb, in the 1970s; it was called the Space Activity Suit. Though it worked very well, it took multiple hours—and the help of several people—to put on. That's not the only drawback to MCP. "The other thing you have to worry about is making sure that you have even pressure across your skin at all different positions," Aitchison says. "Places that are concave, or places that change from being flat to concave—the palms of your hands, the backs of your elbows, the knee, the groin—as you move, the shape of those places change. You need to make sure you develop materials that will stick into those contours and move with the change of shape. So there are a lot of challenges in terms of having the technology that's going to help us do exploration in the next 5 to 10 years. Gas pressurized suits are the way we're going to get there."

14. The Z-2 Will be Pretty Small.

Z-1 Space suit. Photo courtesy of NASA/Johnson Space Center.

It will actually be one of the smallest suits made for exploration. "Previously, on the Z-1, we had the big 13-inch dome," Aitchison says. "That works well for large men, but it doesn't have to be that big for smaller females. So shrinking that shrinks down the rest of the suit too. We looked at the current astronaut population and we tried to design a suit that would fit everyone in the bottom 40 percent in terms of their size." The goal of the Z-2 is to design a suit that will fit everyone from the 5th percentile female and to the 99th percentile male—a huge size range.

15. And you can vote on what it will look like.

Z-2 renderings courtesy of NASA/Johnson Space Center.

NASA's last suit design, the Z-1, looked a little bit like Toy Story character Buzz Lightyear (an accident, according to Aitchison). "There was a lot of talk about it, and we wanted to build on that momentum with this suit just to get people asking questions and wanting to know more about it," Aitchison says. "So we came up with this idea to do a voting website for it."

The engineers worked with fashion students at Philadelphia University to come up with different looks for the suit, which was a very different process than what the engineers were used to. "They definitely take a different approach, coming from a fashion background," Aitchison says. "We had to fill out mood boards with different characteristics, whether it was a patriotic theme or a traditional theme or a science and technology theme. We started out with 12 characteristics and we had to narrow it down to what we thought represented us." Based on that, the engineers and the student designers came up with three concepts: Biomimicry, Technology, and Trends in Society. You can vote for your favorite design here.

For now, the designs are purely aesthetic, but Aitchison can see real-life applications for the bioluminescence in the Biomimicry suit, for example. "When we go to other planetary surfaces, if we're working in environments where we have constant day/night cycles, it might be a cool way to do the crew identifier," she says. "Right now we have fabric stripes along the side and upper arm to indicate who's who to different color stripes for each crew member. [Bioluminescence] could be a unique way to do that that would actually be helpful on a planetary surface."

nextArticle.image_alt|e
Universal Home Video
arrow
entertainment
15 Surprising Facts About Scarface
Universal Home Video
Universal Home Video

Say hello to our little list. Here are a few facts to break out at your next screening of Scarface, Brian De Palma’s gangsters-and-cocaine classic, which arrived in theaters on this day in 1983.

1. IT WASN'T THE FIRST SCARFACE.

Brian De Palma's Scarface is a loose remake of the 1932 movie of the same name, which is also about the rise and fall of an American immigrant gangster. The producer of the 1983 version, Martin Bregman, saw the original on late night TV and thought the idea could be modernized—though it still pays respect to the original film. De Palma's flick is dedicated to the original film’s director, Howard Hawks, and screenwriter, Ben Hecht.

2. IT COULD HAVE BEEN A SIDNEY LUMET FILM.

At one point in the film's production, Sidney Lumet—the socially conscious director of such classics as Dog Day Afternoon and 12 Angry Men—was brought on as its director. "Sidney Lumet came up with the idea of what's happening today in Miami, and it inspired Bregman," Pacino told Empire Magazine. "He and Oliver Stone got together and produced a script that had a lot of energy and was very well written. Oliver Stone was writing about stuff that was touching on things that were going on in the world, he was in touch with that energy and that rage and that underbelly."

3. OLIVER STONE WASN'T INTERESTED IN WRITING THE SCRIPT, UNTIL LUMET GOT INVOLVED.


Universal Home Video

Producer Bregman offered relative newcomer Oliver Stone a chance to overhaul the screenplay, but Stone—who was still reeling from the box office disappointment of his film, The Hand—wasn't interested. "I didn’t like the original movie that much," Stone told Creative Screenwriting. "It didn’t really hit me at all and I had no desire to make another Italian gangster picture because so many had been done so well, there would be no point to it. The origin of it, according to Marty Bregman, [was that] Al had seen the '30s version on television, he loved it and expressed to Marty as his long time mentor/partner that he’d like to do a role like that. So Marty presented it to me and I had no interest in doing a period piece."

But when Bregman contacted Stone again about the project later, his opinion changed. "Sidney Lumet had stepped into the deal," Stone said. "Sidney had a great idea to take the 1930s American prohibition gangster movie and make it into a modern immigrant gangster movie dealing with the same problems that we had then, that we’re prohibiting drugs instead of alcohol. There’s a prohibition against drugs that’s created the same criminal class as (prohibition of alcohol) created the Mafia. It was a remarkable idea."

4. UNFORTUNATELY, ACCORDING TO STONE, LUMET HATED HIS SCRIPT.

While the chance to work with Lumet was part of what lured Stone to the project, it was his script that ultimately led to the director's departure from the film. According to Stone: "Sidney Lumet hated my script. I don’t know if he’d say that in public himself, I sound like a petulant screenwriter saying that, I’d rather not say that word. Let me say that Sidney did not understand my script, whereas Bregman wanted to continue in that direction with Al."

5. STONE HAD FIRSTHAND EXPERIENCE WITH THE SUBJECT MATTER.

In order to create the most accurate picture possible, Stone spent time in Florida and the Caribbean interviewing people on both sides of the law for research. "It got hairy," Stone admitted of the research process. "It gave me all this color. I wanted to do a sun-drenched, tropical Third World gangster, cigar, sexy Miami movie."

Unfortunately, while penning the screenplay, Stone was also dealing with his own cocaine habit, which gave him an insight into what the drug can do to users. Stone actually tried to kick his habit by leaving the country to complete the script so he could be far away from his access to the drug.

"I moved to Paris and got out of the cocaine world too because that was another problem for me," he said. "I was doing coke at the time, and I really regretted it. I got into a habit of it and I was an addictive personality. I did it, not to an extreme or to a place where I was as destructive as some people, but certainly to where I was going stale mentally. I moved out of L.A. with my wife at the time and moved back to France to try and get into another world and see the world differently. And I wrote the script totally f***ing cold sober."

6. BRIAN DE PALMA DIDN'T WANT TO AUDITION MICHELLE PFEIFFER.


Universal Home Video

De Palma was hesitant to audition the relatively untested Pfeiffer because at the time she was best known for the box office bomb Grease 2. Glenn Close, Geena Davis, Carrie Fisher, Kelly McGillis, Sharon Stone and Sigourney Weaver were all considered for the role of Elvira, but Bregman pushed for Pfeiffer to audition and she got the part.

7. YES, THERE IS A LOT OF SWEARING.

According to the Family Media Guide, which monitors profanity, sexual content, and violence in movies, Scarface features 207 uses of the “F” word, which works out to about 1.21 F-bombs per minute. In 2014, Martin Scorsese more than doubled that with a record-setting 506 F-bombs thrown in The Wolf of Wall Street.

8. TONY MONTANA WAS NAMED FOR A FOOTBALL STAR.

Stone, who was a San Francisco 49ers fan, named the character of Tony Montana after Joe Montana, his favorite football player.

9. TONY IS ONLY REFERRED TO AS "SCARFACE" ONCE, AND IT'S IN SPANISH.

Hector, the Colombian gangster who threatens Tony with the chainsaw, refers to Tony as “cara cicatriz,” meaning “scar face” in Spanish.

That chainsaw scene, by the way, was based on a real incident. To research the movie, Stone embedded himself with Miami law enforcement and based the infamous chainsaw sequence on a gangland story he heard from the Miami-Dade County police.

10. VERY LITTLE OF THE FILM WAS ACTUALLY SHOT IN MIAMI.

The film was originally going to be shot entirely on location in Miami, but protests by the local Cuban-American community forced the movie to leave Miami two weeks into production. Besides footage from those two weeks, the rest of the movie was shot in Los Angeles, New York, and Santa Barbara.

11. ALL THAT "COCAINE" LED TO PROBLEMS WITH PACINO'S NASAL PASSAGES.

Though there has long been a myth that Pacino snorted real cocaine on camera for Scarface, the "cocaine" used in the movie was supposedly powdered milk (even if De Palma has never officially stated what the crew used as a drug stand-in). But just because it wasn't real doesn't mean that it didn't create problems for Pacino's nasal passages. "For years after, I have had things up in there," Pacino said in 2015. "I don't know what happened to my nose, but it's changed."

12. PACINO'S NOSE WASN'T HIS ONLY BODY PART TO SUFFER DAMAGE.

Still of Al Pacino as Tony Montana in 'Scarface' (1983)
Universal Home Video

In the film's very bloody conclusion, Montana famously asks the assailants who've invaded his home to "say hello to my little friend," which happens to be a very large gun. That gun took a beating from all the blanks it had to fire, so much so that Pacino ended up burning his hand on its barrel. "My hand stuck to that sucker," he said. Ultimately, the actor—and his bandaged hands—had to sit out some of the action in the last few weeks of production.

13. STEVEN SPIELBERG DIRECTED A SINGLE SHOT.

De Palma and Spielberg had been friends since the two began making studio movies in the mid-1970s, and they made a habit of visiting each other’s sets. Spielberg was on hand for one of the days of shooting the Colombians’ initial attack on Tony Montana’s house at the end of the movie, so De Palma let Spielberg direct the low-angle shot where the attackers first enter the house.

14. SOME COOL TECHNOLOGY WENT INTO THE GUN MUZZLE FLASHES.

In order to heighten the severity of the gunfire, De Palma and the special effects coordinators created a mechanism to synchronize the gunfire with the open shutter on the movie camera to show the huge muzzle flash coming from the guns in the final shootout.

15. SADDAM HUSSEIN WAS A FAN OF THE FILM.

The trust fund the former Iraqi dictator set up to launder money was called “Montana Management,” a nod to the company Tony uses to launder money in the movie.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
YouTube
arrow
entertainment
30 Cold, Hard Facts About Die Hard
YouTube
YouTube

What do you get when you mix one part action movie with one part holiday flick and add in a dash of sweaty tank top? Die Hard, John McTiernan’s genre-bending Christmas action masterpiece for the ages, which sees a badass NYPD cop take on a skyscraper full of bad guys in the midst of an office holiday party. Here are 30 things you might not know about the movie.

1. IT’S GOT A LITERARY BACKGROUND.

Think some action-loving Hollywood scribe came up with the concept for Die Hard? Think again. The movie is based on Roderick Thorp’s 1979 crime novel Nothing Lasts Forever, which is a sequel to his 1966 novel, The Detective. In 2013, Thorp’s long out-of-print book was resurrected to coincide with the film’s 25th anniversary.

2. IT WAS INSPIRED BY THE TOWERING INFERNO.

The idea for Nothing Lasts Forever was inspired John Guillermin’s 1974 disaster flick The Towering Inferno. After seeing the film, Thorp had a dream about a man being chased through a skyscraper by a group of men with guns. He eventually turned that snippet of an idea into a sequel to The Detective.

3. FRANK SINATRA GOT FIRST DIBS ON PLAYING THE ROLE OF JOHN MCCLANE.


Getty Images

Because he had starred in the big-screen adaptation of The Detective, Frank Sinatra had to be offered the role in its sequel. At the age of 73, he smartly turned it down.

4. BRUCE WILLIS’S BIG-SCREEN DEBUT WAS WITH FRANK SINATRA.

In 1980, Willis made his film debut (albeit uncredited) in the crime thriller The First Deadly Sin. He has no name and if you blink you’ll miss him, but the role simply required that Willis entered a diner as Sinatra’s character left it. Maybe it was kismet?

5. CLINT EASTWOOD PLANNED TO TAKE A STAB AT THE PART.

Originally, it was Clint Eastwood who owned the movie rights to Nothing Lasts Forever, which he had planned to star in in the early 1980s. That obviously never happened.

6. IT WAS NEVER SUPPOSED TO BE A SEQUEL TO COMMANDO.

This is one of the most popular internet stories about Die Hard. But according to Stephen de Souza, the screenwriter of both Die Hard and Commando, while there was a sequel to Commando planned, the only similarity with Die Hard is that they both took place in buildings. According to de Souza, Escape Plan is the closest to his original Commando 2 idea and Die Hard was never supposed to be anything but Die Hard.

7. BRUCE WILLIS WASN’T EVEN THE STUDIO’S THIRD CHOICE FOR THE ROLE.

If Die Hard was to be a success, the studio knew they needed a bona fide action star in the part, so they set about offering it to a seemingly never-ending list of A-listers of the time. Rumor has it that Sylvester Stallone, Harrison Ford, Robert De Niro, Charles Bronson, Nick Nolte, Mel Gibson, Richard Gere, Don Johnson, Burt Reynolds, and Richard Dean Anderson (yes, MacGyver!) were all considered for the role of John McClane. And all declined it.

8. BRUCE WILLIS WAS CONSIDERED A COMEDIC ACTOR AT THE TIME.

Die Hard’s producers had nothing against Bruce Willis, of course. He just wasn’t an immediate choice for the role because, up until that point, he was known solely as a comedic actor, not an action star. Following the success of the film, the action genre really became Willis’s bread and butter, and although he has two Emmys for his comedy work, it has remained as such to this day.

9. BRUCE WILLIS WAS BARELY EVEN SEEN ON THE MOVIE’S POSTERS.

Bruce Willis stars as John McClane in 'Die Hard.'
Twentieth Century Fox

Because the studio’s marketing gurus were unconvinced that audiences would pay to see an action movie starring the funny guy from Moonlighting, the original batch of posters for the film centered on Nakatomi Plaza instead of Willis’s mug. As the film gained steam, the marketing materials were altered, and Willis was more prominent in the promos.

10. WILLIS WAS PAID $5 MILLION TO MAKE THE MOVIE.

Even with all the uncertainly surrounding whether he could pull the film off, Willis was paid $5 million to make Die Hard, which was considered a rather hefty sum at the time—a figure reserved for only the top tier of Hollywood talents.

11. WILLIS SUGGESTED THAT BONNIE BEDELIA PLAY HIS WIFE.

Though we suspect that she wasn’t paid $5 million for the gig.

12. BRUCE WILLIS WAS ABLE TO SAY YES THANKS TO A WELL-TIMED PREGNANCY.

The first few times Bruce Willis was asked to star in the movie, he had to say no because of his commitments to Moonlighting. Then costar Cybill Shepard announced that she was pregnant. Because her pregnancy wouldn’t work within the show, producer Glenn Caron gave everyone 11 weeks off, allowing Willis to say yes.

13. SAM NEILL WAS ORIGINALLY APPROACHED FOR THE PART OF HANS GRUBER.

But Neill ended up turning the film down. Then, in the spring of 1987, the casting director saw Alan Rickman playing the dastardly Valmont in a stage production of Dangerous Liaisons and knew they had found their Hans.

14. DIE HARD WAS ALAN RICKMAN’S FEATURE FILM DEBUT.

Though Rickman may have played the part of Hans as cool as the other side of the pillow, it was actually his first role in a feature film.

15. JOHN MCTIERNAN TURNED THE MOVIE DOWN, TOO.

And not just once, but on a few different occasions. His reason was that the material just seemed too dark and cynical for him. “The original screenplay was a grim terrorist movie,” McTiernan told Empire magazine in 2014. “On my second week working on it, I said, 'Guys, there's no part of terrorism that's fun. Robbers are fun bad guys. Let's make this a date movie.’ And they had the courage to do it.”

16. MCTIERNAN SEES IT AS A SHAKESPEAREAN TALE.

In the original script, the action in Die Hard takes place over a three-day span, but McTiernan—inspired by Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream—insisted that it be condensed into a single evening.

17. NAKATOMI PLAZA IS ACTUALLY FOX PLAZA.


Yes, the corporate headquarters of 20th Century Fox—the very studio making the movie—proved to be the perfect location for the movie’s much-needed Nakatomi Plaza. And as it was still under construction, there wasn’t a whole lot they needed to do to the space to make it movie-ready. The studio charged itself rent to use its own space.

18. THE ROOM WHERE THE HOSTAGES ARE BEING HELD IS LITERALLY SUPPOSED TO BE FRANK LLOYD WRIGHT'S FALLINGWATER.

"In this period, Japanese corporations were buying America," production designer Jackson De Govia said in the Die Hard DVD audio commentary. "We posited that ... Nakatami Corporation bought Fallingwater, disassembled it, and reassembled it in the atrium, like a trophy."

19. THAT PANORAMIC VIEW OF THE CITY BELOW? IT’S NOT REAL.

A 380-foot-long background painting provided the illusion of a breathtaking city view in the movie. And it was a state-of-the-art one, too, with animated lights, moving traffic, and the ability to change from night to day. The painting is still the property of the studio and has been used in other productions since.

20. THE FILM’S SUCCESS SPAWNED A BONA FIDE FRANCHISE.

In addition to its four sequels, Die Hard has spawned video games and comic books, too.

21. JOHN MCCLANE’S TUMBLE DOWN A VENTILATION SHAFT WAS AN ACCIDENT.

Or maybe “error” would be a better word. But in the scene in which McClane jumps into an elevator shaft, his stunt man was supposed to grab onto the first vent. But he missed. By a lot. Which made the footage even more exciting to watch, so editor Frank J. Urioste kept it in the final cut.

22. ALAN RICKMAN’S DEATH SCENE WAS ALSO PRETTY SCARY.

At least it was for Rickman. In order to make it look as if he was falling off a building, Rickman was supposed to drop 20 feet onto an air bag while holding onto a stunt man. But in order to get a genuinely terrified reaction out of him, they dropped him on the count of two—not three, as was planned.

23. BRUCE WILLIS SUFFERED PERMANENT HEARING LOSS.


Twentieth Century Fox

In order to get the hyper-realism that director John McTiernan was looking for, the blanks used in the guns in the movie were modified to be extra loud. In one scene, Willis shoots a terrorist through a table, which put the action star in extremely close proximity to the gun—and caused permanent hearing loss. He referenced the injury in a 2007 interview with The Guardian. When they asked Willis his most unappealing habit, he replied that, “Due to an accident on the first Die Hard, I suffer two-thirds partial hearing loss in my left ear and have a tendency to say, ‘Whaaa?’”

24. ALAN RICKMAN WASN’T FOND OF THE NOISE EITHER.

Whenever he had to shoot a gun in the film, Rickman couldn’t help but flinch. Which forced McTiernan to have to cut away from him so that his reactions were not caught on film.

25. GRUBER’S AMERICAN ACCENT POSED NOTHING BUT PROBLEMS.

The scene in which Rickman, as Gruber, slips into an American accent and pretends to be yet another hostage who got away was insisted on by screenwriter Steven de Souza, who wanted them in a room together to duke it out. But McTiernan was never happy with Rickman’s American accent, saying, “I still hear Alan Rickman’s English accent. I was never quite happy with the way he opened his mouth [in that scene] ... I shot it three times trying to get him to sound more stridently American ... it’s odd for someone who has such enormous verbal skills; he just had terrible trouble getting an American accent.”

26. HANS GRUBER’S GERMAN IS MOSTLY GIBBERISH.

And the bulk of his German cohorts were not German either. Bruce Willis, on the other hand, was actually born in West Germany to an American father and a German mother.

27. BRUCE WILLIS HAS FOUR FEET.

As Willis spends much of the movie in his bare feet running through broken glass, he was given a pair of rubber feet to wear as a safety precaution. Which is great and all, but if you look closely in certain scenes, you can actually see the fake appendages.

28. YOU CAN SEE—BUT NOT TOUCH—JOHN MCCLANE’S SWEATY TANK TOP.


Getty Images

In 2007, Willis donated the blood-soaked tank top he wore in Die Hard to the National Museum of American History at the Smithsonian.

29. “YIPPEE-KI-YAY” STOLE THE MOVIE.

It was a simple line: “Yippee-ki-yay, motherf*cker!” But it became the film’s defining moment, and the unofficial catchphrase that has been used in all four Die Hard sequels as well.

30. CREDIT FOR THE LINE IS OWED TO WILLIS.

In a 2013 interview with Ryan Seacrest, Bruce Willis admitted that “Yippee-ki-yay, motherf*cker!” was really just a joke. “It was a throwaway,” said Willis. “I was just trying to crack up the crew and I never thought it was going to be allowed to stay in the film."

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios