It is hard to have a conversation about early space suits without talking about the defense industry. Not only did space suits evolve from pressure suits worn by Air Force pilots but their development was accelerated during the Space Race thanks to the Cold War. We’ve looked at suit prototypes developed by defense contractors, but today, we’re looking at graphic design commissioned by one of these contractors. General Dynamics is a “defense industry contractor for shipbuilding and marine systems, defense systems , land and amphibious combat systems and munitions.” The company hired Matthew Leibowitz in 1965 to make a recruitment video as a way to lure talent to the company.
I’m not sure if their strategy worked at the time, but the stills from that video are certainly alluring my eyeballs in the present. These images are nearly fifty years old and they’re clever and compelling, not just because of their subject but because Leibowitz was insanely talented. He was working for a company of military and technical experts- a company that relied on his skill to bring in new experts. Going to space presented two challenges: ability and motivation. It was the technical experts who provided the means for arriving in space, but it was the expertise of folks like Leibowitz that compelled the drive to go there.
How appropriate that the King of Hearts would be an astronaut.
There’s a joy, dare I say buoyancy, sometimes in simply seeing a space suit… especially for kids imagining they’re out there exploring some new planet. I’ve been bookmarking images of space suits for almost a year now and I have a few photos that feature kids in space suits so I thought I’d feature some of them in a single post instead of one-by-0ne since it’s hard to make an entire entry about an angry-looking kid dressed up as an astronaut or a youngin’ in a universe of biscuits.
The closest we’ve come to talking about what astronauts mean to kids is when we featured the work of Aspen Mays. In an interview, Aspen says during her childhood, when she felt stuck in her small town, she would imagine she was other places. Why not imagine outer space? Some carry this cosmic wanderlust into adulthood. Enough, apparently, that commercial space flight is on the horizon. But these flights will not take you into outer space, just into low earth orbit (LEO), which is still far enough away to feel like there isn’t gravity. And whatever the gravitational force is there, LEO is not a frontier of space; astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson once joked about traveling to this region “to boldly go where hundreds have gone before.”
The frontiers belong to astronauts. And dreaming about being an astronaut is just dreaming of exploration and discovery. Had they been born centuries later, would Marco Polo or Ponce de Leon become astronauts? I’d like to think so. But maybe they would have become investment bankers, traded gold instead of looking for it, and then bought a ticket into space. It’s not quite the same, but as kids, we don’t know the terminology difference between outer space and low earth orbit.
Still, I’m pretty sure none of us dream about finding flying biscuits in either region.
Scott Listfield “paints astronauts and, sometimes, dinosaurs.” His paintings remind me of previously featured Hunter Freeman, who photographs astronauts suited for spacewalks casually walking around pedestrian landscapes: the laundromat, the coffee shop, the candy aisle, etc. Scott also pulls astronauts down to earth, but places them in settings where the contrast between the environment and the suit to highlight the strange environment in which we live. Scott says: “the present is in fact a very unusual place, and it’s strangest in the ubiquity of things we take for granted.”
Many of his paintings place an astronaut in branded environments. I chose the Dunkin’ Donuts image out of many other branded paintings because I like the hot pink and because I like how flat the painting appears compared to the spaces painted in images below it. Branding is a strange phenomenon and it is noticeably absent in many space-age movies that imagine a future where we float around in complicated boxes stripped of everything but engineering:
“I do not know if people genuinely believed we’d be living in space in 2001. If we’d have robot butlers and flying cars, geodesic lunar homes with sustainable gardens, and genetically reconstituted dinosaurs helping or eating the human population. But from Lost in Space to the Jetsons to Jurassic Park, it seems that popular culture craved and fomented this space-age perception of the future. Generations raised on these programs, movies, comic books, and novels are now grown and living in a future filled with mini vans, Starbucks, iMacs, and Hip Hop videos. In many ways, the year 2001, like 1984 before it, failed to live up to expectations. In hindsight, these expectations appear almost comical.”
And many of the expectations were comical. The future in plenty of movies imagined inevitable alien invasions and even scientists imagined absurd-looking propoals for space suits taking us into the future. Scott’s paintings are not almost comical, but absolutely comical in a way that seems inevitable. By turning our everyday settings in to set-ups for his intragalactic gags, Scott invites us to explore not the future from the past, but a surprising present.
Photographs of this “mysterious man wearing a space suit” were taken by Natsumi Hayashi. Maybe it’s appropriate that a photographer best known for her levitating self-portraits would have an interest in zero gravity couture, but I can’t find any information on the suit, itself. Who made this delightful helmet-turned-terrarium? The suit reminds me of small planters from designer Matteo Cibic:
Big thanks to Johnny from from Spoon & Tamago for sending in pictures of the mystery suit.
Yesterday, Discovery launched without further delay for the 38th and final time into space. I’ve mentioned before that Discovery propelled the first American woman into space, launched the Hubble telescope, and has now carried Robonaut 2 to the International Space Station. Its launch is significant not just because of Discovery’s history (here is a timeline of Discovery milestones) but also because it brings us closer to the end of all shuttle missions.
Today, we’re featuring the photographs of Matthias Schaller from a recent exhibition at Ben Brown Fine Arts. Even though the suits are empty, they have a presence about them that is unsettling. A statement from the artist reads, in part:
…I believe we are all astronauts. We are all alone, we are isolated from each other. And we are all trying by verbal and non-verbal communication to get in contact with each other. To not feel alone. Each individual is a space with its own rules, materials, history and relations to the space outside of itself.
It’s not exactly uplifting. Part of the curatorial text mentions Schaller’s interest in what we’ve left behind. As NASA undergoes major structural changes, the fear is that we’re abandoning things in the future.