I was a little stressed when Bobby announced that he wanted to do a handmade week. When it comes to aeronautics, handmade is probably the last word that comes to mind. Everything that goes into space is meticulously constructed by machine – if a measurement is off by a hundredth of an inch it could mean disaster. But there is one thing that is made by hand. Spacesuits.
Dream big. Dutch ‘horizontal living’ design firm Snurk unveiled their latest duvet cover featuring an exact replica of a European Space Agency (ESA) spacesuit, right down to the last buckle mirrors of the European spacewalkers. Now when you’re tucked up in bed, you’ll be counting exoplanets rather than sheep. As much as I love the concept and the beautiful product photographs that accompany it, I do really wish they included a young girl and/or someone with a little diversity. Astronauts/Cosmonauts is an exclusively bro club–but we all can dream.
I always wished that NASA sent an civilian artist into outer space, so they could tell us what its really like up there. To really know what it was like to be a civilian gazing back at that pale blue dot is a grandiose effort.
The ability to translate the experience of floating above earth takes special skill. I am currently rooting for Portland State University Professor Cameron Smith. This Professor of Anthropology in the Pacific Northwest has built a fully functional space suit in his living room. He will use it to reach the lower stratosphere via balloon, approximately 50,000 feet above our humble vantage point. With a DIY manifest destiny sort of feel to it, Smith has taken it upon himself to be part of this human experience of hovering above planet earth. Smith has constructed a fully operational space suit with salvaged materials and finds from EBay. Hopefully an anthropologist can relay back the human experience of floating above.
This past week NASA has unveiled its latest prototype spacesuit, behold the Z-1 [pdf]. This is the first suit that has been developed by NASA since the creation of the Extravehicular Mobility Unit in 1992, the suit that is worn on spacewalks on the International Space Station. There’s been some buzz of how Z-1 has an uncanny visual similarity to our favorite space ranger, Buzz Lightyear. Who wouldn’t want to model a spacesuit after loyal and romantic intergalactic hero? (Side note: Buzz Lightyear is named after the 2nd man on the moon Buzz Aldrin. The MTV Music Video Moon Man is also modeled after Colonel Aldrin.)
The Z-1 prototype spacesuit is designed to brave the next stages of space exploration. That next stage is a little unclear at the moment therefore the Z-1 prototype is designed to be extremely versatile. Mary Beth Griggs of Popular Mechanics’s wonderfully breaks down the suit:
Astronauts step into the full suit through the back port. This port will mate with the spacecraft, enabling an astronaut to enter the suit from inside the craft for extravehicular activity. Another advantage: When used in low to no atmosphere, the port conserves more air than a conventional air lock.
The Z-1 has bearings at the waist, hips, upper legs, and ankles to allow an astronaut greater mobility–essential for retrieving soil and rock samples in tough terrain.
This provisional outer covering conceals a heavily engineered inner suit; a layer of urethane-coated nylon retains air, and a polyester layer allows the suit to hold its shape.
The pants of the suit look like those combination pants/shorts that tourists find convenient to wear–the ones with zippers at the knees. I almost want to throw a camera around his neck and tell him don’t forget to write. The suit is currently undergoing heavy testing at NASA Johnson Space Center and is being prepared for possible human exploration of the Moon, near earth asteroids or Mars. I’ll have Buzz Lightyear-like visions dancing in my head come Sunday as the Mars Science Laboratory Rover (commonly known as Curiosity) lands on Martian soil. Curiosity is twice as long, five times as heavy and equipped with more instrumentation than any other Rover that has been sent to the surface of Mars. It is collecting data for future manned missions to the red planet. To infinity…and beyond!
What does it take to be an Olympian? You must train every day. You must meticulously watch your consumption. You have troops of individuals coaching you for years. As an Olympian, the acceptable margin of error is so minute – milliseconds and millimeters are the measures of success or failure. Your accomplishments are glorified and you are a national hero. Such is the same with an astronaut.
When our boys were sent to the moon, they were sporting an intergalactic Varsity uniform. The footage above, put together by Kasia Cieplak von-Baldegg of Atlantic Magazine from the Special Collections & Archives of George Mason University Library, showcases various Space Suit tests for the Apollo Mission. The suit chosen for the expedition is shown on a high school football field throwing the pigskin, you can overhear the panelists say, “The Redskins could use him.”
Final Frontier Design (FFD) is artist and designer Ted Southern – a costume engineer for such Broadway productions as The Little Mermaid, Equus, and other productions – and Nikolay Moiseev – who worked for the Russian Federal Space Agency and its prime space suit contractor for nearly two decades. The duo met at a 2007 NASA Completion where they worked together to design a new spacesuit glove. The pair now finds residence in Brooklyn designing spacesuits that look a mixture between a scarecrow and a lobster.
At FFD, we are working together to bring our vision of a lightweight, inexpensive, and highly functional space suit to the new space industry. Our Kickstarter goal, the FFD Third Generation (3G) Suit, will be built to conform to the standards of NASA flight certification to the best of our ability, and will feature upgrades to our 2011 Second Generation (2G) Suit (pictured with Nik), including a higher operating pressure, a carbon fiber waist ring, a retractable helmet, and improved gloves and glove disconnects. Our plan is to complete construction of this 3G Suit before 2013.
Technology connects us more than ever. Your friend’s status updates notify you where they are nearby or gives you a slight peep into their separate, parallel lives. Technological advances are also isolating, as they do not demand interactions with others, but give you the appearance of such.
Andrew Rice’s astronaut lithographs are dark. As he puts it, they are are displayed in “layers upon layers of entrapment… [in a] state, where we cannot access the world and the world cannot access us.” His suits are beautifully detailed and intricate but yet timeless in the manner that the surroundings are devoid of time or place – just a grey wash that showcases its figure as active in a pursuit of survival in the modern age. They are isolated in the urban wasteland and cloaked in a gown of supreme technological advancement.
Emerging from a void, Andrew G. Hobbs‘ hallowed portrait of an astronaut is striking. Looking over the many space suits that we have put up here over time, most are the Luke Skywalker types in their white, pillowy Apollo suits that embody the epitome of the hero archetype – full of wholesome goodness and hope. Hobbs’ astronaut falls on the dark side. The helmet frames no visible human inside as the suit weighs heavy on the shoulders of a form that it may house. The multitude of fabric, buckles, hoses and claps that decorate the suit are suitably highlighted in his grey scale portrait against the dark emptiness of space.