Lift and separate
July 21, 2011 9:14 AM Subscribe
Initially the conventional wisdom was that spacesuits “would be like rockets: adamantine, metallic, armored and smooth.” But in practice, rigid spacesuits repeatedly failed under testing. So when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walked on the Moon they were protected from the vacuum of space by flexible spacesuits crafted from twenty-one layers of fabric, “each with a distinct yet interrelated function, custom-sewn for them by seamstresses whose usual work was fashioning bras and girdles” for the Playtex Corporation.
The Spirit of the Spacesuit
, Spacesuit: Fashioning Apollo
by Nicholas de Monchaux, assistant professor of architecture and urban design at UC Berkeley.
This is the story of the Playtex Corporation’s triumph over the military-industrial complex—a victory of elegant softness over engineered hardness, of adaptation over cybernetics. Anticipating the space age, the International Latex Corporation (ILC), known by its consumer brand “Playtex,” conducted basic research on adapting its latex expertise to pressurized suits. Initially ignored, this research became central to the development of the Apollo space suit.
This is the story of the idea of layering itself, and the related strategies of redundancy and interdependence. The suits were stitched together from 21 layers of different materials as varied as Teflon and Lycra. Each solved a specific problem . . . a literal patchwork of improvisations and adaptations, the kind of invention that typically takes place in the garage, not the lab.
Crafting Shuttles: Labor of love, vanishing art
The Handmade space shuttle
As space shuttle Atlantis [concludes] NASA's last shuttle mission, it's worth remembering that key parts of this high-tech spaceship were handmade by people back here on Earth. . . using everyday tools like sewing needles and X-ACTO knives. . .
Theresa Haygood, an expert seamstress constructed small, white quilted blankets using glass thread and special heat-resistant cloth. These thermal blankets are part of the heat shield that protects the shuttle during its fiery re-entry. Haygood sewed them into precise shapes that would fit onto the shuttle like pieces of an elaborate jigsaw puzzle. The job used skills she had been perfecting since she was a child, begging her grandmother for needle and thread to make Barbie clothes.