Life in space has always been fertile ground for creative interpretation, but generally, the particulars of actual space travel are left to engineers rather than artists. That will change in 2025, when a scheduled deployment to the International Space Station (ISS) will include articles of clothing designed in tandem with students in Rhode Island School of Design’s (RISD) Apparel Design department. Pack Your Bags! “We’re Headed for the Moon” is a class taught by longtime RISD Professor Catherine Andreozzi.
“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,” said Andreozzi, in a statement announcing RISD’s partnership with NASA on the project. Far from speculative, the class has already hosted guest lecturers including retired NASA astronaut Nicole Stott, who has lived in space for more than 100 days as a crew member on both the ISS and NASA’s Space Shuttle.
Emilia Mann and Samantha Ho both presented designs focused on the foot, with Mann experimenting with knitting techniques to create cushioning and warmth in the cold recesses of space, and a popcorn knit arrangement in the sock’s interior to allow airflow around the padded sole. Ho’s modular shoe design not only slips on easily, but it can also be worn inside heavier-duty space suits boots.
Androgenous separates by Jacklyn Kim and Ann Dinh imagine astronaut-grade “athleisurewear,” theoretically presaging a new design category of “astroleisurewear”. Designs by Avantika Velho address the need for utility wear, creating colorful culottes and vests festooned with pockets and fasteners that will enable astronauts to attach small and useful items to their bodies as they float around inside the space station — a situation that Stott related was generally addressed by using lots and lots of Velcro.
“We have to do a better job of considering the human in human space flight,” Stott told students during her class visit.
The designs created by RISD students will potentially be worn by nine men and nine women on the mission Artemis, slated to travel to the moon aboard the Orion for the first lunar landing since Apollo 17 in 1972. Their designs must consider temperature variance, privacy, functionality, and—of course—performance in zero-gravity conditions. Clothing designed for wear in space not only has to address a range of functional challenges, including zero-g bathroom protocols, it also has to bear strict budgets in mind.
“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,” said Andreozzi. RISD seems to have an eye on the future of space travel, with this class as just one of several space-related design offerings, which also include Design for Extreme Environments and Designing for Life Off Planet. Other thought leaders advising the students and sitting in on crits include NASA Coordinator Michael Lye, an assistant professor in the Industrial Design department, RISD alum Daniel Leeb of the Iceland Space Agency, and RISD alumna Molly Harwood, who serves as deputy manager of NASA’s Softgoods Lab. This means Harwood is in a position to not only test student designs, but even include aspects of them in the Artemis crew’s apparel. It’s a forward-thinking program, presenting not only a host of practical design challenges but an opportunity for designers to brag that their fashion choices are literally universal and totally out of this world.
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