Spacesuits, lingerie, and the heroes hiding in plain sight

Check this out: Playtex—yes, that Playtex; the company famous for its bras and girdles—outcompeted a host of military and space contractors in a bid to design and develop the NASA spacesuit that went to the moon.

Last September, Brian Abrams in Hollywood magazine The Credits introduced us to Nicholas de Monchaux, whose nonfiction work Spacesuit: Fashioning Apollo has been picked up by Hollywood. Playtex’s founder, Abram Nathaniel Spanel, a former TV repairman and self-taught engineer, created a design that was so immeasurably better than all the others submitted that they won the contract.

…without the technology behind that brassiere (or girdle), the moon landing would have been impossible. It turns out that the 21-layers of gossamer-thin fabric in the Apollo spacesuits that kept Armstrong and Aldrin from “the lethal desolation of a lunar vacuum,” as Nicholas de Monchaux puts it in his remarkable book “Spacesuit: Fashioning Apollo,” was created by the same people who made your grandma’s bra. Playtex. And now, Warner Bros. has hired Richard Cordiner to adapt De Monchaux’s book, which is a story so good you almost believe it was scripted by a Hollywood scribe, not part of historical fact.

Main-ImageEven better, the story showcases how crucial the contribution of the seamstresses was. Our first lunar spacesuits were built by a team of women.

Yeah, even more important than the material story is the human story, because it was of course made not by men but by women, and the seamstresses who were literally taken off of the bra and girdle line and, instead, asked to create a spacesuit that had to be sewn to within a sixty-fourth of an inch without any pins that might puncture the bladder. So it was kind of a super-human feat of sewing, and on the same regular sewing machines that they used to assemble underwear and undergarments they were sewing 21 layers of fabric together to a sixty-fourth of an inch tall, and, on that seam, the life of the astronauts depended.*

How big is 1/64 of an inch? To illustrate, here is a ruler:

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Those little marks on the uppermost level are not even reproduced clearly in this image. That’s how tiny it is. Imagine the effort and dedication it took to make those suits.

History is riddled with heroes, hiding everywhere. Right in plain sight.

I hope the movie is made, and I hope they do right by the story, Spanel, and the dedicated women whose efforts ensured the spacesuits’ success and safety of our astronauts.

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*To clear up any misunderstanding, as the article is a bit confusing in this regard: the 1/64th inch refers to the error tolerance. They didn’t have to make the spacesuits 1/64th of an inch thick. They had to follow the suit design specifications without deviating more than 1/64th of an inch from the pattern. As someone who sews, myself, it’s mind-boggling to me, how they could have managed to achieve such precision, by hand. Seriously impressive!

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Updates – 12 Apr 2014:

Here is another good article on the subject.

Here is the book’s website. F*ing brilliant! I love this!

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Kicking up dust

You’ll notice changes occurring on my blog over the next little bit, as I update and make it user-friendlier…soon I plan to kick up a different kind of dust. Just wait and see.

Meanwhile, speaking of which, enjoy this NASA photo of a polar Martian dust storm. Heck of a dust devil!

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Howling at the moon


blog pic answeringHere’s one for you to ponder. This morning I answered a call on the house phone. Like many families, we all have our own cell phones, but we’ve kept the landline for emergencies, so mostly what we get there are calls from my family members (who are used to reaching us there from decades of experience), and solicitations.

A male voice on the phone asked for my older (21-year-old) daughter by name. It sounded like a young man, and (while this isn’t a sure thing), his accent was Midwestern white guy. She is currently away at college, and all her friends know this. It’s almost unheard-of for her to ever get calls on the landline, even when she is home. It seemed unlikely he was someone who knew her.

Here is (approximately) how the conversation went.

Continue reading Howling at the moon

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Feral Sapient reboot

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O hai!

This blog has been silent for a long time. It’s not that I haven’t had a lot on my mind. I have been reading and thinking about a lot of issues, but I’ve had a hard time finding a hook: an opening for the kinds of things I want to talk about. Let’s face it; I’ve got a feral-sapient brain. In a feral-sap brain, everything runs orthogonally to everything else; it’s all Wincester-housey in there; everything is interconnected and tangled up with other stuff… whimsy, rage, joy, and fear; tons of snake-hands and stairways to nowhere…and the more something matters, the fewer words I can rustle up to describe it succinctly.

But I got that hook today.

So, welcome to the reboot of my blog. Coming up next: dudebros in the environmental movement, and what it means for us. And the planet.

 

PS- What the heck is that with the wild raspberries on my header? I didn’t put those there! It’s supposed to be all Donato-art swirlie-cool-astronauts and stuff. Time to do some maintenance…

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Writers Write

Fiends, Romulans, Mouseketeers: take a potty break, warm up your personal poison, and settle in. This will be a long ride.

Canadian blogger and independent academic Kathryn Allan has written a review of my book Up Against It that is also about her own personal journey as a feminist scholar over the past year. She talks about meeting me at WorldCon last fall and reading my latest book. She reflects on my decision to take a new byline, and how that decision and my work have intertwined with her own transition from the academic life to one as an independent scholar—someone who clearly has suffered, made some important and life-alter(nat)ing decisions :) , who is facing uncertainty now and, I sense, may have had to let go of some cherished dreams, but who is looking forward to her future with anticipation and (at least, so I hope) joy.

For the rest of this post to make much sense, it might help to read her post first. It’s OK; I’ll be here when you get back.

Continue reading Writers Write

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First in the WAVE SF series: UP AGAINST IT

Starred review in Publishers Weekly

Amazing cover art by Donato Giancola!