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Neil Armstrong’s Spacesuit Was Made by a Bra Manufacturer (smithsonianmag.com)
24 points by danso 1306 days ago | hide | past | web | 6 comments | favorite

For a truly outstanding book on the history of the design and manufacture of the space suits, see "Spacesuit: Fashioning Apollo" by Nicholas de de Monchaux. It touches on interface as an aspect of the problem, and the industrial process of making and validating a proper space suit.

It turns out that making a space suit is a really hard problem -- and that "obvious" solutions, like hard jointed hard bodies, don't work. One of the keys to getting the suits was the sewing skills of the seamstresses, who sometimes had to stitch to tolerances smaller than the needles they worked with.

I don't remember the book as well as I like, I think another theme was the necessity of going outside NASA's manufacture and documentation protocols because the handmade manufacture process at the center of it all wouldn't fit. For all of NASA's emphasis on planning and documentation and process, the equipment actually on the astronauts was essentially an enormous craft project of hundreds of dedicated people.

Even with a project like constructing custom space suits, you can still have rigorous controls. For instance, they kept track of the count of sewing pins used to ensure none of them were left in the suit -- and all the pins used in assembly had colored heads, with a different color assigned to each seamstress.

This is another good time to remind those interested in the Apollo missions that the Moon Machines series provides a great look at the non-astronaut people and work that went into the effort.



I cannot recommend the Moon Machines series enough. There was a whole 45-minute episode just on the space suit; it goes over in detail the how & why Playtex got the contract. It's got interviews with people who worked on the project, testing footage I've never seen elsewhere, and some great anecdotes as well. It really gets down into the nitty-gritty design challenges they faced -- it's the Apollo program as the engineers saw it, not the astronauts.

The documentary on the background of the planning, design, construction and making of Baumgartner's stratosphere jump has some excellent background on making space suits. I saw it on the haunted fishtank, but I think it's this one, though I haven't checked the video itself http://stratos.rdioexclusives.com/landing

For some wild reason this just makes sense.

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