Every aspect of space travel is carefully designed to meet the needs of the astronauts due to the unique environment. From the ship, to the food, to the equipment, special consideration ensures safety and functionality. To further this idea, Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) students recently worked up interstellar clothing designs for NASA to consider.
“We have to do a better job of considering the human in human space flight,” said retired NASA Astronaut Nicole Stott.
After inhabiting space for a total of 104 days as a crew member on both the International Space Station and the Space Shuttle, Stott knows a bit about the functionality of space wear. She recently contributed to an interdisciplinary fall studio offered through RISD where students asked questions about her experiences. The class goal is to help design clothing that responds appropriately to the limitations presented by gravity, tight quarters and hygiene.
The program is called “Pack Your Bags! We’re Headed for the Moon.” It is taught by RISD Professor Catherine Andreozzi.
In addition to connecting the class with Stott’s insights, the products designed by students will be presented to NASA engineers as they prepare for a mission called Artemis, currently scheduled for 2025. Nine men and nine women will travel to the moon aboard the Orion for the first lunar landing since Apollo 17, 1972.
“Specifically, the class is considering what articles of clothing would be functional, comfortable, sustainable, breathable, aesthetically pleasing, cleanable and able to endure a 30-day mission to the moon,” Andreozzi said.
In order to better understand the needs of the astronaut, students interviewed Stott. They delved into topics around temperature fluctuations, privacy and bathroom practices. Stott shared that some of the best innovations were low-tech, such as using strips of Velcro on each pant leg to attach tools and other everyday supplies.
RISD students participated the next month in a presentation using Oculus Quest Virtual Reality headsets. It provided them a visual collection of fire-retardant garment designs that feature balance and function.
The wardrobe designs included modular shoe and sock systems, padded socks, flight jackets, pants, jumpsuits and more.
“They’re balancing budgetary restrictions due to the high cost of space travel as well as flammability regulations, while still considering the astronauts’ fundamental human needs,” Andreozzi said.
The class is one in a series of space-related design offerings at RISD that also include Design for Extreme Environments and Designing for Life Off Planet. After all, leaving our environment for one in outer space requires an abundance of planning and budgetary considerations, but that doesn’t mean it can’t come with modern features.
NASA is open to outside influence on the designs and even offers a challenge to encourage innovation through the NASA SUITS Competition (Spacesuit User Interface Technologies for Students) and the 2021 BIG Idea Challenge. In the latter, the Brown/RISD team earned a Most Creative Concept Award.
While there’s no guarantee the student designs will ever make it to space, they will be reviewed by NASA personnel. Aspects will be considered as apparel development continues to reach for the stars in design and function.
Images via Jacklyn Kim, Ann Dinh, Avantika Velho, Emilia Mann and Samantha Ho