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Fashion Students Lend Expertise to NASA Technology Development
University of Minnesota fashion students

University of Minnesota fashion students. Credit: NASA

Wearable technology prototype

A wearable technology prototype. Credit: NASA

Though it won’t be coming to a catwalk near you, NASA engineers are tapping into the creativity of fashion students to help integrate displays, controls and sensors into clothing that will improve efficiencies for astronauts.

The Human Interface Branch in the Engineering Directorate is incorporating a variety of components like lights, alarms and gas analyzers into clothing and other wearable systems for astronauts, which will allow the explorers to gather information in space or wirelessly change how an aspect of a space vehicle operates.

“Wearable technology, at least in these early stages of the technology development, is really focused on putting sensors, displays and controls onto an astronaut’s body,” said Cory Simon, human interface engineer. “We’re focused on inside the space habitat so that astronauts can perform additional functions and augment their capability to allow them to reach things that they couldn’t reach through the controls on their body, or see things they couldn’t see.”

As part of the development, the human interface team, in collaboration with the Habitability and Human Factors’ advanced pressure garment technology development team, connected with a group of fashion students at the University of Minnesota through a professor who directs the university’s Wearable Technology Lab.

“We asked them to help us work on how we can attach and remove functionality from our garments so that we can have a single garment that has a diverse set of capabilities,” Simon said. “The human interface group is focused on hardware and display capabilities, so we’re more concerned with the physical aspect and how the technology functions.”

Fashion students tend to think differently about garment design and consider different aspects of developing something wearable, such as aesthetics or fit, which can help make a garment more practical.

Student teams worked on a variety of projects. One group designed a liquid cooling garment using new pattern techniques to help improve spacesuit cooling. They considered fabric selection, the placement of cooling loops around joints and the different designs needed to cool the torso compared to extremities.

Another group tackled wearable electronics placement and designed a garment for hands-free computing and communication. Prototypes helped them analyze fit and comfort in various positions while maximizing mobility and reducing tension. The teams also developed a prototype for consumer use.

“The best part about this project was that after we had done all the research and had this incredible collection of information, (we) finally got to synthesize this information and design something based on that information to solve a specific problem,” said Jennifer Voth, a Minnesota student who helped create a prototype of a spacesuit boot that conforms to the user’s foot shape and size while preventing injuries from abrasion and impact.

“I’ve learned how to back up my design, test different aspects on an objective scale … and I learned how to incorporate design and science to get a better result,” said student Issa Mello, who also worked on the boot project.

Working with fashion students allows NASA to rapidly test a wearable function.

“When we get to the point where we can put this on the space station or on a future habitat, we’ll have refined it iteratively with different swatches and garments, so that hopefully we’ll have a very functional garment that really allows the astronauts to act more efficiently and be enabled more so than they are now,” Simon said. “We’re definitely looking forward to working with them again and other universities as well. There’s a lot of expertise out there that we can leverage and a lot of students with creative ideas.”

This partnership was also made possible by the University Research, Collaboration and Partnership Office within the Johnson Space Center External Relations Office.

Also see this article in the June JSC Roundup: http://www.jsc.nasa.gov/roundup/online/
Rachel Kraft