Exploring Science Frontiers

NASA Redesigns Suits With Women in Mind

The improved upper torso and helmet designed and built by Gilman and his crew. Gilman's suit
A replica of the current space shuttle spacesuit. CLICK for a full view.
Current spacesuit.
Chirs Gilman and a woman wearing his improved design.
Gilman and a woman wearing his suit
A replica of the current shuttle spacesuit helmet.
Current spacesuit helmet
Gilman's helmet has better visibility.
Gilman's helmet has better visibility
   Chris Gilman, a self-taught engineer and technical costume designer, has been selected by NASA to built the latest space suit. Gilman's company Global Effects in North Hollywood specializes in movie magic and costumes, even winning an Academy award for developing a "cooling suit" that is worn under costumes and heavy wardrobe. He figured he was able to borrow that particular trick from NASA, which uses a similar undersuit to keep astronauts at or near 98.6 when they are working on a spacewalk, so when NASA made a call for new suit designs, Gilman made a proposal.

  NASA was looking for a suit design that would meet the needs of the new breed of astronuats building the space station. According to an interview appearing on Netstar Interactive, Gilman said "The biggest advantage that we had was that we didn't have a preconceived idea of how the suit had to be built. We didn't have all these rules and regulations tying us down."

  Set free to use his own bountiful imagination, Gilman produced a mockup in six weeks for less than $25,000. Current spacesuit costs about $10.4 million. The mockup, however, is not pressurized, and would be of little use outside of Earth's atmosphere.

  NASA needs space suits that come in more sizes, especially small sizes. NASA has been steadily adding more women into key positions as indicated by the recent flight of Eileen Collins, the first female shuttle commander. "Whether your commander is a man or woman doesn't really matter when it comes to getting your mission done," she said. But a space suit that fits is critically important, and women are a bit smaller than men. So a smaller suit was called for to fit what NASA calls fifth percentile individuals, between 4'10" and 5'5" tall.

   Gilman admits there was also an artistic impetus for his proposal to NASA. "I got tired of seeing spacesuits in movies that were just garbage, that were white jumpsuits with little plastic bubbles on their heads."


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