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In Space Everyone Can See Your Face

In media depicting characters in environments requiring protective helmets, such as space or underwater, those helmets will be equipped with lights that illuminate the wearer's face. If you did this in real life, the wearer would most likely find that all they can see is their face reflected in the glass.

A variation, seen in the few science-fiction media that make some attempt at scientific accuracy, is to avoid the lights, but also omit the highly reflective metallic coating applied to the visors of real spacesuits. (It should be noted, though, that the reflective visors on real spacesuits are often retracted when not looking the direction of the Sun; case in point.) Such scenes would often require contrived lighting. Then again, "contrived lighting" has been a staple of filmmaking for ages.

Of course, the reason for this is that the makers want us to see the faces of the actors filling those helmets. A lot of body language and emotional cues are carried through facial expressions and reactions, so it helps the audience to be able to see the people in question while they chew the scenery. The same reasoning pops up in reverse in Faceless Goons, where faces are obscured in order to avoid humanising the characters.

Obviously, this is not a problem in literature, since there are no expensive actors or camera scenes involved at all.

This trope is probably related to the fact that pretty much all spacecraft are evenly illuminated from all sides, regardless of their distance from a star or the possibility of being shadowed by a planet or a bigger ship or whatever. Presumably they all have little lights attached to their outer hull for the same purpose as the helmet lights, though it isn't like there is any Stealth in Space anyway.

Another possible explanation that is sometimes covered is that the internal illumination is due to reflections from lit instrumentation or Heads Up Displays that that are hidden from external view. In such cases, it is believable that the inside of the visor also has anti-reflective coatings.

Related to Helmets Are Hardly Heroic.

To summarize: In space, nobody can see your face, unless precautions are taken.


Examples

    open/close all folders 

    Anime and Manga 
  • +95% averted in Planetes. Spacesuits have faceplates with integrated HUDs, and are almost always lowered to protect against unfiltered sunlight and debris impacts. If you see a character's face in a spacesuit, it's a Closeup On Head. People raise their faceplates only to identify themselves to each other - or so they can see each other's faces during dramatic arguments.
  • Gundam plays this one straight pretty much all the time, though in one episode of Gundam 00, Setsuna turns his visor into a two-way mirror in order to hide his identity.

    Comic Books 
  • This isn't the best example, but it fits here better than anywhere else. In Darklighter, Biggs and the other Rebel pilots once have a mission involving dressing in Imperial flight suits, which have obscuring full-face helmets. The artist drew those helmets as having flip-up visors with clear face shields underneath, and even the creators of the comic admit in a footnote that the only reason for any of that was so the readers could see their faces.
  • Taken to an extreme with the Legion of Super-Heroes. Every Legionnaire has an invisible, skin tight suit that provides them with life support, worn over their normal costumes.
  • While not a space suit, Iron Man's armor almost always inverts this by rarely showing Tony Stark's face from the outside. A relatively recent solution to allow emoting is a sort of 'virtual' display of him hovering in a dark space dotted with computer screens, meant to represent his version of a HUD.
    • When Tony first switched from the Gold Plated Battle Tank Armor to the classic red-and-gold skin-tight model in The Sixties, his lengthy introduction to the new suit specifically noted that he's made the eye-holes and mouth-slits bigger so his adversaries could see his expressions. In The Seventies, everything narrowed to featureless slits again ... but there was a tendency for artists to draw the solid metal "shellhead" faceplate as an Expressive Mask.
  • In Explorers on the Moon, the faces of the spacemen can always be seen through their multiplex helmets, even when floating in outer space or walking through a dark cave on the Moon.
  • Subverted in Judge Dredd. Any time Dredd wears a spacesuit, hazmat suit or Powered Armour, that is usually transparent.......except he still wears his regular helmet underneath.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Alien.
  • The Abyss.
  • Outland Helmets have a whole ring of lights round the visor, used in one case for a a dramatic reveal of The Mole when their lights are suddenly switched on.
  • The Core.
  • Armageddon.
  • In Prometheus, the ship's crew all wear clear domed helmets with lights on them.
  • Event Horizon - as every ship appears to have different models of space suits, both straight and averted in the case of the aversion, to allow a horrifying Dream Sequence Reveal as someone flips up a visor.
  • Averted in the Iron Man films. Tony's face is completely obscured in the the suit. The film has to cut to interior shots of the helmet to see Tony's expressions.
    • Justified as well - the light emitted by his HUD provides just enough to see his face by in the extreme closeups.
  • Non-space example, but in Repo! The Genetic Opera the Repo Man's helmet has blue lights. Head mentions on the DVD that he couldn't see past them.
    • But that they look REALLY cool.
  • Sphere.
  • Averted in Deep Impact, as the astronauts worked on the dark side of the comet their face shields were open, only closing them as the Sun approached the horizon. This scene also attempts portray the effects of failing to use face shields as one astronaut fails to close his shield in time. The exposure of only a few seconds results in immediate permanent blindness and severe sun burn. Unfortunately this is a case of Space Does Not Work That Way; solar radiation in space at that distance is only about 20% stronger than in the desert at Earth's surface, and space suit helmets block both IR and UV, eliminating the major sources of heat burns and sunburn from solar radiation, respectively.
  • The lights are averted in Destination Moon (1950), leaving the actors' faces partly in shadow (to help tell them apart they wear coloured spacesuits). No reflective helmet visors, though, as the movie was made even before Sputnik, it's forgivable.
  • In Frau im Mond (The Woman in the Moon), the 1929 silent sci-fi movie by Fritz Lang, the explorers actually walk round without spacesuits, despite the high degree of technical accuracy (for the time) of the rest of the film. Although it was known the Moon has no atmosphere, silent film actors depended greatly on facial expressions and body language, which would have been obscured by bulky spacesuits and helmets.
  • Transformers: Dark of the Moon does this a little oddly; the astronauts on the 1969 Moon landing have their iconic reflective visors at first, but while examining the crashed Ark up close, actually slide them up into their helmets to reveal secondary transparent visors with face-illuminating lights.
  • Doomsday Machine, a film featured on Cinematic Titanic, actually averts this trope in the end, where the two astronauts who board the Russian spacecraft have black, reflective visors on their helmets. Unfortunately, this was mostly an attempt to (not particularly successfully) cover up the fact that the last part of the movie was filmed with different actors and different sets due to budget constraints.
  • Star Trek Into Darkness features space suits with nifty heads-up displays in the helmets, and face-illuminating lights within that would seem to interfere with the visibility of those displays.
  • 12 to the Moon tries to get round this trope with a Forcefield Door that is allegedly covering the astronauts open-face helmets.
    Astronaut: "I am now turning on my invisible electromagnetic rayscreen..."
    MST3K: "Even I don't buy it."
    Astronaut: "...which forms a protective shield over our faces..."
  • In Gravity, the least realistic aspect of an otherwise thoroughly researched movie is probably this trope - it's so you can get a good look at stars Sandra Bullock and George Clooney.
  • Averted in 2001: A Space Odyssey during Dave Bowman's spacewalk. His face is briefly illuminated by sunlight, until he adjusts the polarization of his helmet visor.

    Literature 
  • Referenced in Larry Niven's Known Space setting; because their faces can't be seen in their helmets, the setting's asteroid miners paint their individual spacesuits with bright, distinctive and elaborate patterns.
  • Averted, very nearly disastrously, in The Mote in God's Eye. Aliens in a spacesuit use a severed head in a helmet to slip past guards; the deception is only revealed when a momentary angle of sunlight reveals the aliens peering out the helmet - having moved the head out of the way to be able to navigate. Having those lights to identify your astronauts sure would have helped spot the dead guy...
  • Avoided in Peter Hamilton's Night's Dawn Trilogy, in which the spacesuits don't even have helmets. The spacesuits are a nondescript black silicon film that completely covers the user from a device worn around the neck. All sensors used for "seeing" the environment are contained in said device and they interface directly with implants in the user's brain. With the suits that do have helmets, the point is made that no-one can see into the suit to tell who it is inside - although that is from a distance.
  • In Melinda Selmys' Steam Punk short story "The Virginal Seas of the Moon," the would-be astronauts have helmets with faceplates made of stained glass in their likenesses. Presumably this is because of gaps in their technical expertise.
  • Used in The Truce at Bakura. When Wedge is extravehicular, Luke can see his face through his faceplate.
    • It should be noted that Wedge is not wearing a spacesuit, but his pilot suit and helmet as seen in the films, with a personal force field to keep a layer of air around him.
    • In Galaxy of Fear: Spore this trope is played straight enough that when a miner is found dead, everyone can see his expression of terror.
  • The Toralii boarders in Lacuna have opaque visors, but one raises it to gloat to a wounded, fallen Captain Liao. That proves to be his undoing.
  • Averted in the early Space Opera where spacemen and women would wear bubble-top helmets, especially on the covers of lurid pulp magazines where you wanted to show the straight-jawed hero and his redheaded female companion to advantage.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Babylon 5 - "Thirdspace"'', Captain Sheridan's suit runs straight into this trope.
    • The same thing is done whenever people are shown wearing gas masks (which happens quite a bit, as they have to go into parts of the station with non-oxygen atmospheres every so often). JMS stated that he's well aware of how unrealistic this is, but he also knows that audiences want to see the actors faces.
  • Justified in the Battlestar Galactica (Classic) - it was the emitters of a force field that kept the pilot's air in.
  • It has cropped up a couple of times on Doctor Who. In "The Impossible Planet" and "The Satan Pit", the Tenth Doctor spends much of his screen-time gallivanting around a pit-and-cave-system wearing a pressure suit and helmet. The helmet features four tiny lights which are pointed directly at the corners of the Doctor's mouth and eyes.
    • "Silence in the Library" features helmets with blue lights shining into the face around the mouth area.
      • But those lights can be turned on and off at will, so likely the point was to let you hold a conversation while wearing them.
    • Averted, however, in the Series 6 "Impossible Astronaut" arc, presumably because it was important that the astronaut remain anonymous until The Reveal.
  • Farscape did't put the cast in spacesuits much, but when they did they had transparent visors but avoided the silly lights.
  • Space Odyssey Voyage To The Planets has the no-lights-but-no-reflective-visor look going on.
  • Star Trek doesn't use space suits much, but when they do, they follow the trope (see the image above).
  • Stargate SG-1 and Stargate Atlantis have had this, though rarely.
  • Airwolf does something very similar with the crew's helmets, although it's not in space. The helmets have no face plates, which might cause a problem if the windows ever shattered. They have visors, but they're only used for firing certain weapons.
  • Especially ridiculous in Space: Above and Beyond as the lighted helmet interior would have proved a wonderful aiming point for chig soldiers when fighting in the dark.
  • Firefly. The lights in the helmets are on even on when the crew is on the surface of Miranda in broad daylight. This could be explained by their needing to be able to see each other's faces in case the radios cut out. The reason they left the lights on planetside was because they're cheap suits, and the gloves can't work the switches to turn them off.
  • Averted in Red Dwarf episode "Thanks For The Memory", though that's largely due to the fact that Craig Charles isn't in the spacesuit due to his wife giving birth on the day of the shoot.
  • An Earthbound example in Fringe: the team sometimes wear full-coverage suits to protect against chemical and biological hazards. These have lights inside the helmets, so the audience can see who's who.

    Pinball 
  • Averted with Sega Pinball's Apollo 13 game; the astronaut prominently featured on the backglass has his face entirely covered by the visor of his helmet. Done out of necessity because Tom Hanks' likeness was not available.

    Toys 
  • A vast majority of LEGO Space minifigures have transparent visors, to the point where the Classic LEGO Space minifigures simply don't have visors at all; appropriately enough, this trope is averted primarily with sets which intend to portray space travel as it stands today, where the minifigures accordingly have opaque visors.

    Videogames 
  • Thoroughly averted in Dead Space. None of the available suit helmets have face openings, presumably presenting the world to Isaac via AR screen - which would also nicely explain the massive amount of Hard Light interfaces.
    • Further, most helmet fronts don't even look like a face, consisting instead of a green light layer upon which armour plates are mounted in various patterns. In any other game, the helmet would mark its wearer as a perfect Faceless Goons to be slain guilt-free.
  • Metroid: It's on and off here. The 2D games (Super Metroid and Zero Mission in particular) will show Samus's eyes behind her green visor. When it went to 3D with the Metroid Prime series Samus's face was completely obscured.
    • The camera in the Prime series is mostly first person, so you do get to see her face reflected off the visor whenever there is something bright nearby.
      • Prime 3 also had Samus' face reflected on the helmet's visor while using the Scan Visor.
    • The introduction to Super Metroid has Samus typing up the events of previous Metroid games. You can see her face on the computer monitor.
    • Explained in Metroid: Other M. The visor has a device that switches it between transparent and opaque.
  • Avoided in StarCraft...somewhat. In the videos, you can't see someone's face when the reflective plating is down, they lift it up to have conversations. (Although they inexplicably keep it down for no reason most of the time, even if they're fighting on a very dark planet where a reflection can give them away.) Inside the game itself though, the plating is almost always up. Because you might forget which unit is selected even though the name and a miniature is next to the portrait...or something. Obviously this only applies to Terrans as the other races can happily frolic in space...somehow. And even only some of those, others have weird masks or Humongous Mecha.
  • Mostly averted in Mass Effect 1. The human characters (and the alien Liara, who wears human-style armor) add a largely opaque facemask to their helmets when in inhospitable conditions. However they all include a transparent eye slit, and the area visible through that is well lit, thus their functionality remains debatable. The aliens Garrus and Wrex have only one helmet design per armor, all of which are face-concealing. The alien Tali is always wearing an environment suit with a mostly-opaque visor, but if you look close you can see her eyes and a few lines of her face. The artist who designed the helmets for the game noted the difficulty in still having characters be expressive while they're basically wearing masks.
    • The sequel keeps the same design for the most part, but also includes several alternative bonus armors with full face visors that play it straight. It also has characters that forgo space suits entirely. Though some are justified and truth in television.
    • Although made possibly even worse by Liara, who now only wears a small transparent breather over her mouth leaving the rest of her head uncovered.
      • Mass Effect 3 has several armors that completely obscure the face, although there is a setting that removes the helmet during conversations.
  • Played straight in Final Fantasy VIII, where Rinoa's face can be fully and clearly seen through her space helmet as she floats around. But averted in the rest of the game where the helmets worn by other spacecrew/team members are opaque.
  • Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey plays with this trope by giving the character spacesuit-things for the hostile atmosphere where the game takes place... but only unnamed Strike Team members (which includes you) wear their helmets' faceplate down all the time. Important characters (Gore, Zelenin, Jimenez) keep the faceplate up even when out in the field, protected from the environment only by the transparent visor underneath.
  • Deeply, for the disappointment of many fans, averted in the Halo series where it features John-117 and his Spartan Mjolnir suit, designed to work in every condition, including vacuum.
    • You can't EVER see his face through his faceplate, which is a golden 150% reflective one.
    • On the other hand, the Orbital Drop Shock Troopers from Halo 3: ODST do have transparent visors, but only when they toggle them to do so. In combat, though, they can't be seen through.
  • The Wing Commander series averts this trope, for the most part. At most one only saw the area immediately around the eyes of the pilots wearing the helmets, and it wasn't illuminated other than by the light in the cockpit (which just shifted the problem out of the helmet, but that's not this trope).
  • Averted in the X-Universe games. Spacesuit helmets have opaque reflective visors.

    Western Animation 
  • In Static Shock, Gear's face mask, while hiding his identity, allows the viewer to see his face.
  • Invader Zim had an air helmet that was a pink gooey bubble that turned invisible after forming around his head and pressurizing. It's also seen reappearing sporadically when damaged.
  • In Star Trek: The Animated Series, personal environmental force fields allow the crew to explore planets without Earth-like atmospheres while wearing nothing but a uniform. This was likely so the animators wouldn't have to do much extra work on the characters.
  • Optimus Prime from Transformers has an iconic faceplate that is indicative of his classic look even more than his semi-truck vehicle mode. Later incarnations have made the faceplate retractable so that he can actually emote and express himself, with "Prime Lips" being a mild controversy (one of many) with the Transformers film series. The truth is the retractable faceplate was introduced in Beast Wars, with other shows not even have it deployed at all, while the films made it into a dramatic "time for battle" moment that has influenced later shows (especially Transformers Animated and Transformers Prime).

     Real Life 
  • On occasion, the lighting conditions are such that this trope is played straight. 40 years after the first moonwalk, researchers noted and saved a few frames from a video in which Neil Armstrong's face was visible.

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