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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."

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13 Fascinating Facts About Nina Simone
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Nina Simone, who would’ve celebrated her 85th birthday today, was known for using her musical platform to speak out. “I think women play a major part in opening the doors for better understanding around the world,” the “Strange Fruit” songstress once said. Though she chose to keep her personal life shrouded in secrecy, these facts grant VIP access into a life well-lived and the music that still lives on.

1. NINA SIMONE WAS HER STAGE NAME.

The singer was born as Eunice Waymon on February 21, 1933. But by age 21, the North Carolina native was going by a different name at her nightly Atlantic City gig: Nina Simone. She hoped that adopting a different name would keep her mother from finding out about her performances. “Nina” was her boyfriend’s nickname for her at the time. “Simone” was inspired by Simone Signoret, an actress that the singer admired.

2. SHE HAD HUMBLE BEGINNINGS.


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There's a reason that much of the singer's music had gospel-like sounds. Simone—the daughter of a Methodist minister and a handyman—was raised in the church and started playing the piano by ear at age 3. She got her start in her hometown of Tryon, North Carolina, where she played gospel hymns and classical music at Old St. Luke’s CME, the church where her mother ministered. After Simone died on April 21, 2003, she was memorialized at the same sanctuary.

3. SHE WAS BOOK SMART...

Simone, who graduated valedictorian of her high school class, studied at the prestigious Julliard School of Music for a brief period of time before applying to Philadelphia’s Curtis Institute of Music. Unfortunately, Simone was denied admission. For years, she maintained that her race was the reason behind the rejection. But a Curtis faculty member, Vladimir Sokoloff, has gone on record to say that her skin color wasn’t a factor. “It had nothing to do with her…background,” he said in 1992. But Simone ended up getting the last laugh: Two days before her death, the school awarded her an honorary degree.

4. ... WITH DEGREES TO PROVE IT.

Simone—who preferred to be called “doctor Nina Simone”—was also awarded two other honorary degrees, from the University of Massachusetts Amherst and Malcolm X College.

5. HER CAREER WAS ROOTED IN ACTIVISM.

A photo of Nina Simone circa 1969

Gerrit de Bruin

At the age of 12, Simone refused to play at a church revival because her parents had to sit at the back of the hall. From then on, Simone used her art to take a stand. Many of her songs in the '60s, including “Mississippi Goddamn,” “Why (The King of Love Is Dead),” and “Young, Gifted and Black,” addressed the rampant racial injustices of that era.

Unfortunately, her activism wasn't always welcome. Her popularity diminished; venues didn’t invite her to perform, and radio stations didn’t play her songs. But she pressed on—even after the Civil Rights Movement. In 1997, Simone told Interview Magazine that she addressed her songs to the third world. In her own words: “I’m a real rebel with a cause.”

6. ONE OF HER MOST FAMOUS SONGS WAS BANNED.

Mississippi Goddam,” her 1964 anthem, only took her 20 minutes to an hour to write, according to legend—but it made an impact that still stands the test of time. When she wrote it, Simone had been fed up with the country’s racial unrest. Medger Evers, a Mississippi-born civil rights activist, was assassinated in his home state in 1963. That same year, the Ku Klux Klan bombed a Birmingham Baptist church and as a result, four young black girls were killed. Simone took to her notebook and piano to express her sentiments.

“Alabama's gotten me so upset/Tennessee made me lose my rest/And everybody knows about Mississippi Goddam,” she sang.

Some say that the song was banned in Southern radio stations because “goddam” was in the title. But others argue that the subject matter is what caused the stations to return the records cracked in half.

7. SHE NEVER HAD A NUMBER ONE HIT.

Nina Simone released over 40 albums during her decades-spanning career including studio albums, live versions, and compilations, and scored 15 Grammy nominations. But her highest-charting (and her first) hit, “I Loves You, Porgy,” peaked at #2 on the U.S. R&B charts in 1959. Still, her music would go on to influence legendary singers like Roberta Flack and Aretha Franklin.

8. SHE USED HER STYLE TO MAKE A STATEMENT.

Head wraps, bold jewelry, and floor-skimming sheaths were all part of Simone’s stylish rotation. In 1967, she wore the same black crochet fishnet jumpsuit with flesh-colored lining for the entire year. Not only did it give off the illusion of her being naked, but “I wanted people to remember me looking a certain way,” she said. “It made it easier for me.”

9. SHE HAD MANY HOMES.

New York City, Liberia, Barbados, England, Belgium, France, Switzerland, and the Netherlands were all places that Simone called home. She died at her home in Southern France, and her ashes were scattered in several African countries.

10. SHE HAD A FAMOUS INNER CIRCLE.

During the late '60s, Simone and her second husband Andrew Stroud lived next to Malcolm X and his family in Mount Vernon, New York. He wasn't her only famous pal. Simone was very close with playwright Lorraine Hansberry. After Hansberry’s death, Simone penned “To Be Young, Gifted and Black” in her honor, a tribute to Hansberry's play of the same title. Simone even struck up a brief friendship with David Bowie in the mid-1970s, who called her every night for a month to offer his advice and support.

11. YOU CAN STILL VISIT SIMONE IN HER HOMETOWN.

Photo of Nina Simone
Amazing Nina Documentary Film, LLC, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons

In 2010, an 8-foot sculpture of Eunice Waymon was erected in her hometown of Tryon, North Carolina. Her likeness stands tall in Nina Simone Plaza, where she’s seated and playing an eternal song on a keyboard that floats in midair. Her daughter, Lisa Simone Kelly, gave sculptor Zenos Frudakis some of Simone’s ashes to weld into the sculpture’s bronze heart. "It's not something very often done, but I thought it was part of the idea of bringing her home," Frudakis said.

12. YOU'VE PROBABLY HEARD HER MUSIC IN RECENT HITS.

Rihanna sang a few verses of Simone’s “Do What You Gotta Do” on Kanye West’s The Life of Pablo. He’s clearly a superfan: “Blood on the Leaves” and his duet with Jay Z, “New Day,” feature Simone samples as well, along with Lil’ Wayne’s “Dontgetit,” Common’s “Misunderstood” and a host of other tracks.

13. HER MUSIC IS STILL BEING PERFORMED.

Nina Revisited… A Tribute to Nina Simone was released along with the Netflix documentary in 2015. On the album, Lauryn Hill, Jazmine Sullivan, Usher, Alice Smith, and more paid tribute to the legend by performing covers of 16 of her most famous tracks.

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13 Secrets From the Guinness Archives
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Leon Neal/AFP/Getty Images

Guinness has been a staple in Irish pubs for nearly 260 years. With so much history, it's no surprise that the Guinness Storehouse Archives—which are open to the public—are stuffed with intriguing artifacts that tell some pretty wild stories. Here are a few.

1. THE LEASE TO THE DUBLIN BREWERY WAS INTENDED TO LAST 9000 YEARS.

In 1759, founder Arthur Guinness signed a lease for a four-acre property at St. James’s Gate in Dublin. The lease required a down payment of £100, an annual rent of £45, and a term of 9000 years (not a typo). Such lengthy leases were relatively common back then: “At the time in Ireland, there was a lot of instability to do with land tenure,” explains Fergus Brady, Archives Manager at Guinness. Centuries earlier, the British had begun confiscating land from native Irish in an effort to build plantations, and extra-long leases were a means of avoiding this fate. As Brady explains, “You see these really long leases: 99-year or 999-year leases. It seemed to be a legal custom at the time that they used the number nine.”

2. ARTHUR GUINNESS WAS NOT AFRAID TO DEFEND HIS PROPERTY WITH A PICKAXE.

In 1775, the Dublin Corporation—that is, the city government—demanded that Arthur Guinness pay for the spring water flowing to his brewery. When Guinness argued that he was already paying for water rights through his 9000-year rental agreement, the Dublin Corporation sent a sheriff and a committee to his brewery to cut off the water supply. Guinness was livid. He seized a pickaxe and unleashed a torrent of obscenities so colorful that the Dublin Corporation’s goons eventually retreated.

3. GUINNESS ONCE DEPLOYED FIELD AGENTS TO CATCH COUNTERFEITERS.

Guinness Apology
Guinness Archive, Diageo Ireland

In the 19th century, there was no such thing as brand consistency. Guinness did not bottle its own beer; instead, it shipped the suds in wooden casks to publicans who supplied their own bottles and applied their own personalized labels. Occasionally, these publicans sold fake or adulterated Guinness. To prevent such sales, the company sent special agents called “travellers” into the field to collect beer samples, which it tested in a laboratory. “If a publican was found to be serving adulterated or counterfeit Guinness, they had to give a public apology in their local newspaper—and even the national newspapers,” archivist Jessica Handy says.

4. FOR 21 YEARS, THE COMPANY HIRED A GUY TO TRAVEL THE WORLD AND DRINK BEER.

In 1899, Guinness hired an American ex-brewer named Arthur T. Shand to be a “Guinness World Traveller.” It was arguably the coolest job in the world. For 21 years, Shand traveled the world taste-testing beer. According to Brady, “His job was to travel the world and taste Guinness, say whether it was good or bad, who our bottlers in the market were, who our major competition was, what kind of people were drinking our product.” Shand traveled to Australia and New Zealand, to Southeast Asia and Egypt. “He was sort of a Guinness sommelier,” Brady says.

5. THE COMPANY'S HARP LOGO CAUSED TROUBLE WITH THE IRISH GOVERNMENT.

The Celtic harp—based on the 14th century “Brian Boru Harp” preserved at Trinity College—became a trademarked Guinness logo in 1876. Forty-five years later, when Ireland gained independence from England, the Irish Free State decided to use the same Celtic harp as its official state emblem. This became awkward. Guinness owned the trademark, and the Irish government was forced to search for a workaround. You can find their solution on an Irish Euro coin. Look at the coin, and you’ll notice that the harp’s straight edge faces the right; meanwhile, the harp on a glass of Guinness shows the straight edge facing left [PDF].

6. GUINNESS REPORTEDLY SAVED LIVES ON THE BATTLEFIELD.

The old slogan “Guinness is good for you” sounds like a marketing gimmick, but it was born out of a genuine belief that the beer was, in fact, a restorative tonic. The health claim dates back to 1815, when an ailing cavalry officer wounded at the Battle of Waterloo reportedly credited Guinness for his recovery. For decades, the medical community widely claimed that the dark beer possessed real health benefits—and they weren’t necessarily wrong. “There was little safe drinking water at the time,” Handy says. “But with brewing, consumers knew they were getting a safe beverage.”

7. THE COMPANY CREATED A SPECIAL RECIPE FOR CONVALESCENTS.

A label for Guinness invalid stout
Guinness Archive, Diageo Ireland

From the 1880s to the 1920s, Guinness produced a special “Nourishing Export Stout”—a.k.a. “Invalid Stout”—that contained extra sugars, alcohol, and solids and came in cute one-third pint bottles. “It was very common practice for people to buy a couple bottles and keep them as a tonic, even if it was just a glass or half a glass,” Handy says. In fact, Guinness went as far as asking general practitioners for testimonials attesting to the beer’s medical benefits. According to Brady, “Many of them wrote back and said yes, we prescribe this for various ailments.” One doctor even claimed a pint was “as nourishing as a glass of milk.”

8. DOCTORS REGULARLY PRESCRIBED THE BEER TO NURSING MOTHERS.

From the 1880s to the 1930s, many physicians believed Guinness was an effective galactagogue—that is, a lactation aid. The company sent bottles to hospitals as well as wax cartons of yeast (which supposedly helped skin problems and migraines). Hundreds, possibly thousands, of doctors prescribed the beer for ailments such as influenza, insomnia, and anxiety, David Hughes writes in A Bottle of Guinness Please: The Colourful History of Guinness. According to Brady, the company was sending beer to hospitals as late as the 1970s.

9. THE COMPANY ONCE DROPPED 200,000 MESSAGES-IN-A-BOTTLE INTO THE OCEAN.

A Guinness message in a bottle
The message within every bottle dropped in the Atlantic Ocean in 1959.
Guinness Archive, Diageo Ireland

In 1954, Guinness dumped 50,000 messages-in-a-bottle in the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian Oceans. In 1959, they repeated the stunt again, with 38 ships dropping 150,000 bottles in the Atlantic. The first bottle was discovered in the Azores off Portugal just three months after the initial drop [PDF]. Since then, the bottles have turned up in California, New Zealand, and South Africa. Just last year, a bottle was discovered in Nova Scotia. (If you find one, you just might be offered a trip to the Guinness Storehouse in Dublin.)

10. THE PERSONNEL FILES IN THE GUINNESS ARCHIVES CONTAIN SOME DOOZIES.

The Guinness corporate archives are open to the public. According to Handy, “Some of the stories you get in there are amazing, because you get accident reports and you get crazy stories of people bouncing on bags of hops outside the brewery." This may sound less surprising considering that, back in the day, Guinness employees were given an allowance of two pints of beer every day [PDF].

11. A GUINNESS SCIENTIST MADE A STATISTICALLY SIGNIFICANT MARK IN THE FIELD OF STATISTICS.

If you’ve taken a statistics class, you might be familiar with the Student’s t-test or the t-statistic. (It’s a method of working with a small sample size when the standard deviation is unknown.) The t-test was first described by William S. Gosset, a brewer and statistician at Guinness who was attempting to analyze a small sample of malt extract. Gosset’s discovery not only helped Guinness create a more consistent-tasting beer, it would lay the bedrock for one of the most important concepts in statistics: statistical significance.

12. GUINNESS IS SO BIG IN AFRICA, IT LAUNCHED A SUCCESSFUL FEATURE-LENGTH FILM.

Guinness began exporting beer to Africa in 1827. In the 1960s, it opened a brewery in Nigeria—followed by Cameroon and Ghana. Today, there are reportedly more Guinness drinkers in Nigeria than there are in Ireland. “In Ireland, England, and the United States, everybody thinks that Guinness is synonymous with Ireland,” Brady says. “But in Nigeria, there’s a very very low conception of that.” The beer is such a cultural staple that a fictional character who advertised the product named Michael Power—a James Bond-like, crime-fighting journalist—became the star of a feature film in 2003 called Critical Assignment, which was a box office smash. (Of course, there’s some branding built into the script. As Brady explains, “There are definitely scenes where Michael Power is enjoying a pint of Guinness.”)

13. DISPENSING BEER WITH NITROGEN WAS ORIGINALLY CONSIDERED LAUGHABLE.

In the 1950s, Guinness scientist Michael Ash was tasked with solving the “draft problem.” At the time, dispensing a draft pint of Guinness was ridiculously complicated, and the company was losing market share to draft lagers in Britain that could be easily dispensed with CO2. “The stout was too lively to be dispensed with CO2 only,” Brady says. “Ash worked on the problem for four years, working long hours day or night, and became a bit of a recluse apparently. A lot of doubters at the brewery called the project ‘daft Guinness.’” But then Ash attempted dispensing the beer with plain air. It worked. The secret ingredient, Ash discovered, was nitrogen. The air we breathe is 78 percent nitrogen. Today, a Guinness draft contains 75 percent nitrogen. Not only did the discovery make dispensing the beer easier, it created a creamy mouthfeel that’s been the signature of Irish stouts since.

Full disclosure: Guinness paid for the author to attend an International Stout Day festival in 2017, which provided the opportunity to speak to their archivists.

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