Space is getting a new look, sort of. On Wednesday, just a week after the end of the Paris fashion collections and with the kind of sonic crescendo attached to the most extravagant runway shows, NASA unveiled the new Artemis III lunar spacesuit at Space Center Houston. Which is to say, the first real reconsideration of the space suit in 40 years.
Unlike spacesuit redesigns from private companies like Elon Musk’s SpaceX, Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic, and Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin, the Artemis III spacesuit is not designed to be worn solely inside a spacecraft, but also on the ground. moon’s surface, specifically in the never. previously visited lunar south pole.
Created in collaboration with Axiom Space, it has a black outer shell for a bit of edge, with cool hits of navy and orange at the knees, shoulders and ankles and a deep V overlay across the chest, for victory or vroom. (There’s also a small American flag on one shoulder.) The effect is less Michelin Man, the style of the old Apollo suits, and more Hulk meets anthropomorphic anteater and “Star Trek.”
At least that’s what the current version looks like, which will be worn by astronauts on the ground and during training. When astronauts set foot on the moon in 2025, the dark cover layer will be replaced with a white insulation layer for thermal protection.
Still, the basic silhouette: with articulated elbow joints, a large backpack on the rear for life support systems, a hunchbacked torso that connects to the helmet, and arms that curve out from the body as if holding a ball. of giant beach – will remain the same. Like the fact that the suit is essentially gender non-binary and created with a variety of adjustable parts to accommodate all body sizes and allow for more flexibility.
For all that though (and that’s a big deal), the total effect is still very much within recognizable spacesuit lore, at least to the untrained eye.
So why give it so much importance?
It’s not just because of its cost (the order has a “base value of $228.5 million,” according to information from NASA) or because of its technical specifications, which are extreme: Nicholas de Monchaux, MIT chief architect and author of “Spacesuit: Fashioning Apollo,” he described it as “really less of a garment than a very small building or a very small spaceship.”
It is because, as Mr. de Monchaux said, the space suit is “the costume for the drama that we project in space”. The way we “put ourselves in the skies.”
Any small change in its appearance has potentially big repercussions, not only for the astronauts who wear it, but also in the popular imagination. Capture that and you’ll gain public support (which, when you’re a government agency embarking on a very expensive mission, is no mean feat).
It’s no coincidence that along with Axiom’s engineers, seamstresses, and technology specialists, Esther Marquis, the costume designer for the Apple TV+ series “For All Mankind,” who imagines an alternate narrative for America’s first lunar colonies , also participated in the creation of the new suit.
(By working with Ms. Marquis, Axiom is following in the footsteps of Mr. Musk, who turned to Jose Fernandeza costume designer who worked on “Batman v Superman” and “The Fantastic Four,” for SpaceX suits).
The spacesuit occupies a singular place in our mindscapes and ever since John Milton used the term “space” for “outer space”—meaning the place where angels reside—in “Paradise Lost.”
The suit is “about the heroic search for new lands and new frontiers,” said Debra Benita Shaw, associate professor of cultural theory at the University of East London and author of the article, “Bodies Out of This World: The Space Suit as Cultural Icon .”
“Now, due to global warming and other threats to human life, it has also taken on a new meaning as a symbol of escape,” said Dr Shaw. “It also represents the fragility of that life.”
For most viewers, the suit is the human connection point to the unknown, the only familiar element in a strange world of technology and science. We may not understand astronauts’ language or even how they live in a zero-gravity environment, but they all wear clothes.
According to Dr. Shaw, sometimes technology fuels our imagination, but often our imagination actually shapes our technology.
In fact, Mr. de Monchaux said, the first space suits, the ones that appeared on the cover of Life Magazine January 6, 1958 — silver, shimmering, reminiscent of “frontiers beyond earth,” as the cover lines read — were silver not for any specific technical reason, but because the company that made them understood that they were the color of light of the stars instead of the dull khaki of previous flight suits, would appeal to the viewing public. They would play on popular preconceptions of what a spacesuit should look like.
It was later, once astronauts began spacewalking, that the spacesuits were redone in white because it turned out that silver reflected the sun and risked dazzling the astronauts. Now they come (at least for now) in black. One small step for man, one giant leap for space style.
The redesign may come as a surprise to fans of the moon, but fashionistas would understand. There’s a reason fashion has long reflected a fascination with space travel, from late 18th century balloon sleeves in France, a reference to hot air balloons that enabled man’s first forays into the air. , to the science fiction styles of Paco Rabanne and André Courrèges. Just a few weeks ago, Ib Kamara’s Off-White ready-to-wear show was set in an imaginary lunar landscape and was inspired by the question: “What would you wear in outer space if you were a boy who loved like to rap and was it cool enough?
His collection provided an answer. This week, NASA and Axiom offered another.