A children’s cancer center, a space suit company, and NASA recently teamed up to collaborate on an out-of-this-world project… and the first art exhibit in space. As part of the Space Suit Project, children at the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Texas hand-painted pieces of material that were then assembled by space suit manufacturer ILC Dover into a wearable flight suit. Astronaut and cancer biologist Kate Rubins wore the colorful finished project in the International Space Station while on a live video chat from outer space last Friday, during which some of the child artists asked her questions about her interests and the work involved in becoming an astronaut. This meaningful flight suit serves as an inspiration to both the hundreds of people who painted pieces for the space suit as well as to the adventurous astronauts and NASA staff who worked to bring beauty into an unconventional art space.
The COURAGE space suit worn by Rubins is actually the second that was created through the new collaborative project, which aims to raise awareness about childhood cancer and about the benefits of pairing art and medicine. Many of the kids who crafted pieces for the space suit were on isolation as part of their treatment and COURAGE is a nod to the difficult and brave task of facing the cancer-fighting process by themselves (in the physical sense). Since astronauts face a different, but relatable isolation during their space travels, the project was quickly embraced by the medical team at MD Anderson, ILC Dover, and NASA, including retired astronaut Nicole Stott, who was the first person to paint in space. The first piece created through the Space Suit Project was a replica flight suit entitled HOPE and was hand-painted by hundreds of patients, families, and staff. The next piece, UNITY, will incorporate artwork from children’s hospitals around the world. For the children who worked alongside Rubins to create their individual pieces and then saw the final product orbiting the planet at 17,500 miles per hour, the experience was truly inspiring.