Future Mobility Trend Report

Fashion Tech Mobility Series Part 1: Space Travel

The mobility series is a collection of short stories, facts, and anecdotes about historical changes in fashion tech. The series is a deep dive into some of the greatest changes in fashion that were born out of technological advancements. To start the series: One of the greatest examples of technology and mobility making an impact on clothing — space travel.

Yet, it’s important to understand that the spacesuit was such an integral part of the mission to travel in space – without it – the travel itself would have not been possible.

The space suit made its first appearance in movies and television shows but then quickly became a reality as great advances in technology were made. The advances were also coupled with the space race that started in 1957 and shortly thereafter, helped push the first Apollo mission attempt in 1961.

Innovation

The production of the first NASA space suit for humans, called the A-7L, started with a competition. NASA asked companies to submit proposals and then decided to have two companies work together to produce the suit. NASA preferred the suit design from the International Latex Corporation, which was a division of Playtex. Yes, that’s right, a bra-maker was hired to create a spacesuit! But NASA was keen on the backpack design and program management experience of Hamilton Standard Division of United Aircraft Corporation. So they hired both companies.

Unfortunately, the plan to incorporate cooperation didn’t work at first. The two companies had issues forming a working relationship. In response, NASA split the space suit program into three different divisions which then led to the successful creation of the A-7L using a mix of companies to create different parts of the finished suit.

Why is this suit so fascinating? Well, the A-7L is the most photographed space suit in history. It was the one worn by Neil Armstrong as he landed on the moon. It protected and transported astronauts for Apollo 7 to Apollo 14. Also, it led to the creation of Beta cloth, a fabric with Teflon-coated microfibers. This material was fire resistant and was the outermost layer or cover layer of the suit. After the deadly Apollo 1 fire that killed all three crew members before launch, adding fire resistant material to the space suit became rather crucial.

Technology

But this Beta cloth was only 1 of the essential 13 required layers of the spacesuit. The suit also consisted of 2 layers of aluminized Kapton film separated by Beta marquisette laminate, 2 layers of nonwoven Dacron, 5 layers of aluminized Mylar and a rubber coated nylon.

For Apollo 13, red stripes of Beta cloth were added to the outside of the suits for one simple reason: To distinguish the astronauts in photos. NASA and the media had a tough time sorting out who’s who in photos – an issue that no modern-day facial recognition program could fix.

Besides the smart materials that were used in the suit, the suit ultimately had to be markedly mobile.

The astronaut’s wardrobe had to withstand extreme moon conditions from severe heat at 150°C and severe cold at -130°C in the shade. It also included technical features such as the oxygen supply and a cooling system with tubes that circulated water around the astronaut. At the same time, it had to be flexible enough to allow for maximum movement. Oh, and it had to protect against UV-radiation. Basically, the spacesuit was a fully functioning one-man spacecraft and created a life-sustaining environment (in this case, life-sustaining meant only 6 hours of primary life support and 30 minutes of backup life support).

As if all of this wasn’t mesmerizing enough, the production of the spacesuit had to be absolutely precise. There wasn’t any room for error. A stitching error greater than 0,79mm would deem an unworthy spacesuit.

Before being launched into space, the suit had to be x-rayed twice to ensure that no pins were left behind in the suit by a seamstress.

Textiles Deconstructed

Dacron: Also known as Polyethylene terephthalate, more commonly referred to as polyester. It is used as fibres in clothing, in containers for foods and liquids and has many other purposes. For the spacesuit, it was used as a spacer material. It was patented in 1941 but today DuPont Teijin Films US is the owner of the trademarks.

Kapton: Used for thermal blankets and insulation on a spacecraft, on flexible electronics and as a build surface for 3D printing. In the A-7L, it was used for reflective insulation. Created and patented by Dupont in the 1960s.

Beta marquisette: Separated the reflective surfaces and acted as a spacer in spacesuits.

Mylar: For the spacesuits, it was used for reflective insulation but it can also be used for its strength, stability, insulation, reflectivity and transparency.  Developed in the 1950s by DuPont, Imperial Chemical Industries, and Hoechst.

Beyond all of these fashion tech advancements, NASA has continued to have an impact on modern-day fashion. And we aren’t talking about printed  NASA t-shirts.

Materials originally developed for NASA are now finding their way back into women’s undergarments. Sportswear label, Reebok, recently picked up on a substance called “Shear Thickening Fluid”, developed by chemists at the University of Delaware as an armor technology for protective garments and spacesuits. The gel-like material that remains liquid when in a still-  or slow-moving state and becomes solid at high velocity was recently incorporated into a sports bra by Reebok-designer Danielle Witek. This innovation has the potential to change the entire activewear industry.

Stay tuned for the next part of our Mobility Series!

Sources:

Illustration provided by Kate Kilpatrick-Galbraith. To view more of her work go to https://www.instagram.com/vwolfeart/.

Chaikin, Andrew. 2013, November. Neil Armstrong’s Spacesuit Was Made by a Bra Manufacturer. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/neil-armstrongs-spacesuit-was-made-by-a-bra-manufacturer-3652414/

Thomas, Kenneth S. and McMann, Herald J. U.S. Spacesuits. Springer Science & Business Media, 23 Nov 2011. Google Books. Web. 08 Sep. 2018. http://books.google.com

Wikipedia contributors. (2018, July 26). Apollo/Skylab A7L. In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 12:24, September 10, 2018, from https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Apollo/Skylab_A7L&oldid=852140373

Wikipedia contributors. (2018, August 24). BoPET. In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 12:26, September 10, 2018, from https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=BoPET&oldid=856336721

Wikipedia contributors. (2018, September 2). Kapton. In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 12:24, September 10, 2018, from https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Kapton&oldid=857652671

Wikipedia contributors. (2018, August 20). Polyethylene terephthalate. In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 12:25, September 10, 2018, from https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Polyethylene_terephthalate&oldid=855771940