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Author Topic:   Spacesuit: Fashioning Apollo (de Monchaux)
cspg
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From: Geneva, Switzerland
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posted 10-24-2010 09:14 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for cspg   Click Here to Email cspg     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Spacesuit: Fashioning Apollo
by Nicholas de Monchaux
How the twenty-one-layer Apollo spacesuit, made by Playtex, was a triumph of intimacy over engineering.

About the Author
Nicholas de Monchaux is Assistant Professor of Architecture at the College of Environmental Design, University of California, Berkeley. His work has appeared in the architectural journal Log, the New York Times, the New York Times Magazine, Architectural Digest

  • Hardcover: 250 pages
  • Publisher: The MIT Press (February 27, 2011)
  • ISBN-10: 026201520X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0262015202
More info from the MIT Press:
When Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin stepped onto the lunar surface in July of 1969, they wore spacesuits made by Playtex: twenty-one layers of fabric, each with a distinct yet interrelated function, custom-sewn for them by seamstresses whose usual work was fashioning bras and girdles. This book is the story of that spacesuit. It is a story of the Playtex Corporation's triumph over the military-industrial complex -- a victory of elegant softness over engineered hardness, of adaptation over cybernetics.

Playtex's spacesuit went up against hard armor-like spacesuits designed by military contractors and favored by NASA's engineers. It was only when those attempts failed -- when traditional engineering firms could not integrate the body into mission requirements -- that Playtex, with its intimate expertise, got the job.

In Spacesuit, Nicholas de Monchaux tells the story of the twenty-one-layer spacesuit in twenty-one chapters addressing twenty-one topics relevant to the suit, the body, and the technology of the twentieth century. He touches, among other things, on eighteenth-century androids, Christian Dior's New Look, Atlas missiles, cybernetics and cyborgs, latex, JFK's carefully cultivated image, the CBS lunar broadcast soundstage, NASA's Mission Control, and the applications of Apollo-style engineering to city planning. The twenty-one-layer spacesuit, de Monchaux argues, offers an object lesson. It tells us about redundancy and interdependence and about the distinctions between natural and man-made complexity; it teaches us to know the virtues of adaptation and to see the future as a set of possibilities rather than a scripted scenario.

kr4mula
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Posts: 606
From: Cinci, OH
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posted 10-25-2010 11:23 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for kr4mula   Click Here to Email kr4mula     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
For those of us particularly interested in this little niche, this book should bring a radically different take on the subject.

MCroft04
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From: Smithfield, Me, USA
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posted 10-25-2010 08:21 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for MCroft04   Click Here to Email MCroft04     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I attended a presentation this evening by Nicholas de Monchaux at Colby College in Waterville, Maine.

Nicholas is an architect from Berkeley and is a very creative thinker. His talk compared development of the spacesuit to contemporary architecture and urban history, so expect more similar analysis in the book.

Very little info on spacesuits during the talk, but I spoke with him afterwards and he knows a lot about spacesuits.

Kevmac
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From: College Station, TX
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posted 10-25-2010 09:21 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Kevmac   Click Here to Email Kevmac     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
...on eighteenth-century androids, Christian Dior's New Look, Atlas missiles, cybernetics and cyborgs, latex, JFK's carefully cultivated image
What does all this stuff have to do with the Apollo spacesuit? Sounds like a bunch of psycho-babble. I just want to know about the suit!

mode1charlie
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From: Honolulu, HI, USA
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posted 03-26-2011 02:38 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for mode1charlie   Click Here to Email mode1charlie     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
NPR's Talk of the Nation - Science Friday had a 17 minute interview with the book's author Nicholas de Monchaux today.

I didn't know that he was a year-long visiting fellow at the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum, during which time he spent a lot of time not only researching the AL7/AL7B suit design and construction, but interviewing the astronauts and the ladies who hand-sewed the suits.

I was a little dubious about the book before, but the interview was fascinating, and host Ira Flatow raved about the book. I'm sold - copy ordered from Amazon.

The interview can be listened to here, which also includes a two and a half minute video on NASA spacesuit tests.

Short aside: A colleague of mine at work heard the interview, sent me and a couple of others (none of them space enthusiasts except for myself) an email alerting me about it, and it sparked a lively email discussion. This interview really seems to have flipped their switch (in a good way). So make of that what you will.

Apolloman
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From: Ledignan, Gard (30), France
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posted 03-26-2011 02:28 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Apolloman   Click Here to Email Apolloman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I expected a deep dive on the design and manufacture (materials, processes) of these spacesuits... But in fact nothing more than the technical side than I already knew.

Really disappointed.

Robert Pearlman
Editor

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From: Houston, TX
Registered: Nov 1999

posted 03-28-2011 10:39 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Jeff Foust, editor of The Space Review, has reviewed "Spacesuit: Fashioning Apollo."
Spacesuit, though, is not a detailed technical history of the development of the A7L spacesuit, and de Monchaux does not go through the spacesuit layer by layer. Instead, many of the book's chapters are essays on other topics of varying degrees of relevance to spacesuit design. Some discuss the early history of high-altitude flight and the development of pressure suits, another examines Soviet approaches to spacesuit design. Others, though, stray farther afield: one recounts the "New Look" in postwar fashion, followed by another about Eisenhower's "New Look" defense policy. Some, which tackle topics as diverse as John F. Kennedy's health, the development of computer simulation technology, and how the Apollo landings were televised, seem to have little, if anything, to do with the core subject of the book, as if the author needed additional content to fill out his 21-layer structure.

kr4mula
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Posts: 606
From: Cinci, OH
Registered: Mar 2006

posted 03-28-2011 11:35 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for kr4mula   Click Here to Email kr4mula     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Thanks for posting that review, Robert.

Though I've never met the author, he and I have crossed research paths several times. Since his book was first in the works years ago, some of us interested in the same subject were aware of his coming from a different background and using a much different perspective. From what I heard, that National Air and Space Museum fellowship was NASA trying to help him bring his narrative back to earth a bit (pun intended) so that it would actually get published and be useful.

The professional historians might place his stuff more on the "material culture" side of things (though you'd be better served by reading Doug Lantry's dissertation on suits from that point of view), but de Monchaux is a rather unconventional thinker.

Those of us used to what is really the rather traditional field of aerospace history might not find his book that helpful as a research tool.

However, what I think he's really doing is introducing a new and different audience to a bit of aerospace history, rather than writing for those of us already into it. Let's hope it worked out reasonably well.

I'm curious to see the overall reaction, both from us and those outside of the space history fold.

MCroft04
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From: Smithfield, Me, USA
Registered: Mar 2005

posted 03-28-2011 06:54 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for MCroft04   Click Here to Email MCroft04     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I had the opportunity to meet the author last year. He is a very smart, creative and nice fellow. His mission is not just history, but perhaps more the relationship between history and society.

dsenechal
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posted 04-02-2011 02:15 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for dsenechal   Click Here to Email dsenechal     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Physically, it is quite an elegant book (even though it is soft-bound with a "rubberized" dust cover). Text and photos are all of superb quality, glossy throughout; and it has a nice smell to it (something you'll never get from a Kindle).

As noted earlier, if you're looking for a nuts and bolts technical book, this isn't the book for you. There are several other excellent texts that fit that bill. This is more of a series of essays on a variety of subjects, not always directly related to the spacesuit, but somehow always returning. In some ways, it reminds me of "Of a Fire on the Moon" by Norman Mailer - more of a "feeling" than simply straight reportage.

I wasn't quite sure what to expect, but overall, I think it's a great book. It takes a variety of historical viewpoints, ranging from Dior fashions, to the detonation of the first hydrogen bomb, to the shocking state of JFK's health, to the fact that Wylie Post's eyepatch helped warm the icy oxygen that was pumped into his first altitude suit, and manages to pull them all together into a very well-written book.

Any shortcomings would be related to its intended audience: it doesn't seem "technical" enough to satisfy the space-geek-types, but there is not a huge pool of 'non-geeks' who are likely to be interested in this sort of thing. Having said that, "Fashioning Apollo" appears to have been well-researched, Mr. de Monchaux is obviously an accomplished writer, and I highly recommend this book.

Robert Pearlman
Editor

Posts: 28036
From: Houston, TX
Registered: Nov 1999

posted 05-24-2013 02:08 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
collectSPACE
Bra makers' moon-suit history to be told in Warner Bros. movie

From the studio that put Sandra Bullock into a spacesuit may now come a movie about the real-life seamstresses who traded sewing brassieres for stitching Neil Armstrong's lunar wardrobe.

Warner Bros. Pictures, which this fall will release Alfonso Cuarón's Bullock-and-George-Clooney-as-astronauts sci-fi film "Gravity," has hired screenwriter Richard Cordiner to adapt the non-fiction book, "Spacesuit: Fashioning Apollo" for the big screen, the Hollywood news website Deadline reports.

"Spacesuit," by Nicholas de Monchaux, tells the history of the Apollo moonwalkers' outerwear and the company that created it: ILC, or International Latex Corporation — best known by its consumer brand of "Playtex." De Monchaux, an assistant professor of architecture and urban design at the University of California, Berkeley, researched the book while working for a year as a fellow at the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C.

Rick Mulheirn
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From: England
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posted 05-24-2013 05:36 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Rick Mulheirn   Click Here to Email Rick Mulheirn     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I hope this venture comes off. Should make for an interesting movie. The "Moon Machines" series included a particularly fine episode detailing development of the Apollo suits; available to view as a disc set for anybody who missed it.

dave
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From: Leicestershire, England
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posted 05-28-2013 01:55 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for dave   Click Here to Email dave     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Article here from the Daily Mail.

Robert Pearlman
Editor

Posts: 28036
From: Houston, TX
Registered: Nov 1999

posted 06-09-2013 09:38 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
The Wilmington News-Journal reports additional details about the film:
Much has been said about the race to the moon, but Tom McNulty said he has a tale to tell from a very different viewpoint.

McNulty hopes to make a movie of the story about how Delaware's own ILC Dover, at the time named ILC, made the suits for the first manned trips to the moon. He envisions a film based on the story of how a company affiliated with Playtex – maker of women's undergarments – was able to use that knowledge of human movement and apply it toward building the first suit for use on the moon.

It isn't just idle hope: McNulty is a Hollywood producer, with credits like "Night at the Museum," "What Happens in Vegas" and "Date Night." Warner Bros. owns an option on the now-developing script for the movie.

The script is due to the studio in mid-August. If the studio gives it a green light, a director will be attached, and shooting would probably begin in early 2014, McNulty told the paper.
The film, McNulty said, "may take some liberties," as do many films that are based on fact: "You want to get the story as historically accurate as possible, but you don't want it to be a documentary," McNulty said.

Bill Ayrey, company historian at ILC Dover, said many of the current employees are excited to hear "about how the company of 40-45 years ago might possibly be recognized for its great accomplishments." But said there was also concern "about whether Hollywood will get it right."

"Although Tom McNulty repeatedly assures us that he truly wants this movie to pay tribute to those employees, there is always the concern that many facts could get twisted in order to make for a good script – but I'm holding out hope that that is not the case," Ayrey said.

Robert Pearlman
Editor

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From: Houston, TX
Registered: Nov 1999

posted 10-01-2013 04:10 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
The Motion Picture Association of America's "The Credits" offers an update on the upcoming film "Spacesuit" in an interview with Nicholas de Monchaux:
The actual story is way crazier and funnier and more absurd [than one you could make up]. It's already a three-act story, which goes like this; an unexpected supplier initially gets the NASA contract. Then, the supplier loses the contract. Then, they get it back again, but need to master the bureaucracy of NASA and become a real kind of military industrial organization and not just a bra manufacturer. Then the climax of the story is of course the moon landing.

I interviewed the guy who represented Playtex in Mission Control, he was the representative for all of the contractors in the upper-viewing gallery during the moon landing. And in my naive way I said to the guy, 'You must have been so incredibly proud and filled with delight and wonder to see the suit that you and your colleagues made under such arduous circumstances on the moon!' and he was like 'Are you crazy? All I was thinking was 'Get them back into the capsule because then it's not my fault if something goes wrong!' So it was high stress and high stakes and a lot was riding on what these people found themselves unexpectedly doing.

(Thanks to Bob Runge for the heads-up to the interview!)

mode1charlie
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Posts: 492
From: Honolulu, HI, USA
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posted 10-01-2013 03:51 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for mode1charlie   Click Here to Email mode1charlie     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
This could make a really interesting and entertaining film and I hope it happens (in a way that does justice to ILC).

Side benefit, if it happens: high-fidelity spacesuit props!

Teacher in space
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posted 11-02-2013 10:03 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Teacher in space     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Great video lecture from Spacesuit: Fashioning Apollo... Hour long lecture of how early and Apollo spacesuits were made, what king of things and experiments affected the design.

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