We have already mentioned the relevance of fashion design ensuring that our garments are well fit, safe, and comfortable– especially when we are discussing clothes that could take us to the moon.
Developing the perfect spacesuit was and remains such an integral part of the mission to travel in space that without it, the travel itself would have not been possible. This is also one of the most popular elements about it, because it is something that we all relate to as we picture ourselves inside that helmet, dressing as astronauts on Halloween, and so on.
The spacesuit is part of our imagination. Even before the moon landing, it made appearances in movies, on television shows, and throughout pop culture. The spacesuit became a reality as great advances in technology were made, pushed by the space race that started in 1957 and shortly thereafter, helped the first Apollo mission attempt in 1961.
Given its history, the spacesuit is even more related to our daily wardrobes than we once thought, and not just as a costume. Get to know more about how it was developed and how it related to fashion then – and continues to be relevant today.
The first NASA spacesuit for humans was the A-7L and its development started with a competition. NASA asked companies to submit proposals. Then they decided to have two companies work together to produce it.
NASA was keen on the backpack design and program management experience of Hamilton Standard Division of United Aircraft Corporation. But they preferred the suit design from the International Latex Corporation, which was a division of Playtex.
Do you know what Playtex is? It’s a bra-maker! Yes, that’s right, a bra-maker was hired to create a spacesuit! To develop the perfect garment for the astronauts, NASA looked for a flexible and strong material, and only Playtex offered both. Using latex on the fabric, the bras were an innovative combination of the technology of new materials and the traditional craftsmanship of shaping and sewing. Playtex proved to be a vital asset for designing something as challenging as the spacesuit.
The A-7L is the most photographed space suit in history. Neil Armstrong was wearing it as he landed on the moon, and it protected and transported astronauts from Apollo 7 to Apollo 14.
Also, it led to the creation of Beta cloth, a fabric with Teflon-coated microfibers. This material is 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 its launch, adding fire resistant material to the spacesuit became crucial.
But this Beta cloth was only one 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 was who in photos, an issue that no modern-day facial recognition program could fix.
Aside from the smart materials that were used in the suit, the suit 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. As if all of this wasn’t mesmerizing enough, the production of the spacesuit had to be absolutely precise. A stitching error greater than 0,79mm would deem a spacesuit unworthy. 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.
Beyond all of these fashion tech advancements, NASA has continued to have an impact on modern-day fashion. Materials originally developed for the space agency are now finding their way back into women’s undergarments.
The sportswear label, Reebok, recently picked up on a substance called “Shear Thickening Fluid,” which was developed by chemists at the University of Delaware as an armor technology for protective garments and spacesuits. The gel-like material remains liquid when in a still- or slow-moving state and becomes solid at high velocity. It was incorporated into a sports bra by Reebok-designer Danielle Witek.
“For a designer, discovering this material is so exciting because it unlocks so many possibilities,” says Witek. “We can now look at every single garment we make and think about how we can add another layer of adaptability to it.” This innovation, for its simplicity and technology, has the potential to change the entire activewear industry.
New materials developed by NASA for space travel are still relevant to fashion, as we have seen with the Reebok sports bra. But beyond fabric, it offers a new way of thinking about fashion design for future challenges. Both mobility and fashion are connected. They learn from each other and improve continuously to create what we will be wearing on Mars — or just when we walk around the block. What the connection between bras and spacesuits shows is that they are not linked just through technology, but essentially for their capability to efficiently respond to a necessity.
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.
We are exploring the Future of Fashion and Mobility to discover what else the two disciplines have in common and how they shape what’s next. Please keep an eye on our chapters and on the full content of The Future Fashion and Mobility Trend Report. If you would like to read the entire report now, please contact us via firstname.lastname@example.org