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Awaking aboard the International Space Station, astronauts must dress for a long day of research, maintenance, exercise, and other tasks. They don their “icon shirts,” custom-tailored garments with interchangeable “swatches.” Some swatches allow them to map their positions within the ISS, allow them to communicate with ground control, and others record and transmit their vital signs. After fixing the swatches appropriate for the day’s agenda to their icon shirts, the astronauts are prepared for work onboard the space station. Of course, when they venture outside of the ISS for experiments or repairs, they must also wear special equipment, like a spacesuit and a “personal warning harness,” which alerts them to any danger of being struck by stray debris.

As innovative as that wardrobe sounds, it’s far from the current reality. Aboard the ISS, crew members typically wear polos and cargo pants. In space, they wear suits similar to the ones worn by their predecessors in the 1960s.

But NASA has been trying to upgrade its astronauts’ wardrobes — particularly through collaboration with designers and researchers. Rebeccah Pailes-Friedman, one such collaborator, is a professor of industrial and fashion design at the Pratt Institute, where her students worked on prototypes for NASA, sewing and soldering their ideas for what astronauts’ clothes should be. We spoke about the challenges they faced, as well as their proposed solutions. Our conversation has been edited for clarity and brevity. More… “Dressing for Success . . . in Space”

Arvind Dilawar is an independent journalist. His articles, interviews, and essays on everything from the spacesuits of the future to love in the time of visas have appeared in NewsweekThe GuardianVice, and elsewhere

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