What Neil Armstrong has to do with combinatorial creativity, underdog innovators, and sports bras.
So begins UC Berkeley architecture professor Nicholas de Monchaux’s Spacesuit: Fashioning Apollo — a fascinating voyage into the sartorial history of space flight through the parallel history of one of its key technologies: the spacesuit. Blending material science, iconic photography, and intriguing trivia (did you know that the Apollo mission’s computer-backup system was crafted into a binary pattern that was then physically woven into ropes?), the book itself is cleverly constructed as a series of layers corresponding to the 21 layers of the Apollo spacesuit.
The story of the Apollo spacesuit is the surprising tale of an unexpected victory: that of Playtex, maker of bras and girdles, over the large military-industrial contractors better positioned to secure the spacesuit contract. This book tells the story of this victory, and analyzes both the Playtex suit — a 21-layer, complex assemblage — and its ‘hard’ competitors. It is the clean lines of the latter that have traditionally captured designers’ imaginations: one noted critic described the AX-3 ‘hard’ suit as ‘the most beautiful thing I have ever seen.’”
For more on these competitors, as well as the evolution of the spacesuit over the following decades, see The Smithsonian’s excellent Spacesuits: The Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum Collection.)
A space suit is made out of a flight suit, a Goodrich tire, a bra, a girdle, a raincoat, a tomato worm. An American rocket ship is made out of a nuclear weapon, and a German ballistic missile; a ‘space program’ — a new organization with new goals — is made out of preexisting military, scholarly, and industrial institutions and techniques.”