Design and Engineering Students Collaborate on Fashion-Forward Space Suits for ILC Dover

Students from the fashion design program did extensive research and consulted with engineering students to create their forward-looking space suit designs for ILC Dover.

So you’re planning a trip to space and you haven’t a thing to wear? Fashion design and mechanical engineering students collaborated to solve an unusual problem for ILC Dover, an American engineering company that specializes in the design of space suits.

ILC Dover created every space suit worn by the Apollo astronauts, including the 12 men who walked on the moon. The firm sponsored a project with Philadelphia University to solicit student ideas about space suit designs in the future. With private companies like Boeing and SpaceX taking an active role in space exploration, ILC Dover posed a challenge to the PhilaU students: what would a space suit look like for a wealthy individual traveling to space as a tourist?

Some organizations, including the Russian Space Agency and the U.S.-based Space Adventures, already offer individuals with several million dollars to burn the opportunity to take zero-gravity orbital flights or participate in a spacewalk. ILC Dover wanted to see what kinds of designs PhilaU students could create for the intrepid space explorers of the future.

“We are engineers by trade, so we’re really hoping to learn a lot from you about aesthetics and fashion,” said Jinny Ferl of ILC Dover in a Dec. 4 meeting with students. Ferl helped oversee the project with fellow space suit design engineers Bobby Jones and Heyon Jeon.

The fashion design students learned about suit design from the sponsors, and the mechanical engineering students helped the designers make functional choices for their designs.

“The project brief asked the designers to share their aesthetic research and development process with the team from ILC Dover while considering the engineering requirements of the suits,” said Celia Frank, associate professor of fashion design. Frank and adjunct professor Joyce Reber taught the Fashion Design 316 course in which the project was embedded.  “Working in teams, the students did extensive research in diverse areas such as biomimetics, fine art and celestial formations,” Frank said.

“The engineering students helped the fashion design students with material selections and technical terminology for materials and accessories,” said Muthu Govindaraj, professor of engineering. “In lively discussions, the engineers challenged the designers with questions on functional aspects of closures, straps and other items that are required in the space suits.”

Student designs ranged from updated version of the traditional white space suits to complete redesigns with galaxy-inspired screen prints.

“We wanted to make sure our designs were not only functional, but fashionable as well,” said Gia Gladden ’14, a fashion design student. Gladden and her classmates created several different designs for potential clients Boeing and SpaceX, researching the companies’ histories and upgrading the look of the space suit while meeting the many requirements needed for safe travel.

The designs included space for safety harnesses, reflective materials to increase visibility and adjustability for a better fit. . The students added features, such as style lines in gussets or seams, which made the suits more visually appealing as well as more functional for people of different shapes. Each group created both a male and female version of their suit concepts.

Three teams of students were honored for their designs, earning first, second and third place awards for their work. The first place winners were Gabriela Canosa, Cassandra Burr and Julia McElroy. Second place went to Jordan Milligan and Tara Klein; and third place honors went to Emily Ray and Sophie Hume.

It might be a while before space suits follow the fast-moving fashion trends of the earth-bound world, but with aesthetic and functional improvements to suit designs, there is no reason that astronauts in the future couldn’t travel in style.

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