NASA astronauts might not be seen on fashion runways any time soon, but thanks to a partnership between NASA and the University of Minnesota, in-space clothing design and technology are getting a fit, form, function and fashion makeover.
Generally, spacesuits are strictly safety suits and protect astronauts from everything – extreme temperatures, radiation, chemical contamination, micrometeoroids and other space debris. They designed to stay properly pressurized, store critical support equipment, tethers, parachute packs, and even hold small personal items. However, when astronauts are in the International Space Station or other similar habitats they are working in more of a shirt-sleeve environment. The fit, form and function are all important. Of course, a nice, comfortable, every-day style garment is needed, while still focusing on improving the safety and efficiency of daily activities.
JSC's Cory Simon has been working on the development of the Electronic-textile System for the Evaluation of Wearable Technology, also called the E-SEWT (pronounced eSuit), for about a year with the help of an award from Johnson Space Center's Independent Research and Development fund.
"I am excited about the E-SEWT and very optimistic about pursuing the applications of wearable technology and wearable computing," said Simon, a computer engineer who has also studied human-computer interaction. "We are working to not only create a better interface to interact with and control a spacecraft, we are focusing on wearable displays and controls and how they fit into the E-SEWT considering fabric and feasibility of features in the design."
The E-SEWT is an innovative project that is being designed with fully integrated wearable technology. An astronaut donning it could monitor anything on a spacecraft with the suit's software and interact directly with its systems. The crew couldn't quite fly the craft using monitors on their arms, but in an emergency situation the crew would have no problem finding the monitor or controls because critical connections would be worn on the body where the astronaut could always access them. The lights could go out and smoke could fill the cabin, but the crew would always know exactly where the controls were.
Kaila Bibeau is a senior at the University of Minnesota in the College of Design who spent the spring semester working on NASA challenges related to the E-SEWT while studying apparel design. Bibeau is spending the summer interning at Johnson to continue sharing her knowledge of garment design and manufacturing for the unique task.
"It is crucial to consider multiple types of textiles to develop space gear," Bibeau said. "The quality of the garment is based a lot on material choice and construction methods, not really with a fashion standpoint. Of course, fashion plays a small role in making the final prototype look presentable for the astronaut community, and to help garner interest from possible collaborators or business partners."
This is the first time there has been a cooperative partnership with a university design program, and based on the collaborative products being presented to the Johnson community, it has been successful. The ideas that have come out of the collaboration have a great deal of potential to improve human performance, communication, crew safety and comfort in space – with some added style and functional flair.
To see an interview with Cory Simon, click here.
To see an interview with fashion students from the University of Minnesota, click here.