Virgin Galactic has joined forces with sports apparel brand Under Armour to design uniforms for space tourists who are set for departure in 2020. Anthony Pearce reports
According to Richard Brandon, spacesuits are a huge part of the iconography of the space age – from Buck Rogers to the Apollo A7L worn by Neil Armstrong.
The founder of the Virgin Group, of which spaceflight company Virgin Galactic is a part, believes “our visual impressions of human spaceflight and what astronauts wear are inextricably linked.”
He gave Under Armour, the American sportswear company, the formidable task of creating the spacesuits – designed to support “profound and transformative qualities of the human spaceflight experience” – to be worn on Virgin Galactic’s life-changing sub-orbital voyages.Branson and Under Armour announced their collaboration, which saw the clothes brand become Virgin Galactic’s “technical spacewear partner”, back in January 2019.
The companies have now revealed the collection, comprising a base layer, spacesuit, footwear, training suit and limited-edition astronaut jacket.
Virgin Galactic said that the design of astronaut apparel is a “unique combination of the requirement for comfort and utility matched by the ultimate focus on customer experience”.“Requirements for astronaut spacewear as we enter the second space age are evolving, but the design challenge has not diminished. We were delighted when Under Armour stepped up to this task and they have surpassed our expectations,” Branson says.
“I love the way the spacewear looks and I love the way it feels. I also love the fact that the next time I put it on, I will be on my way to space,” he adds.Under Armour CEO and founder Kevin Plank says: “At Under Armour, we pride ourselves on always getting better and leaning into innovation to drive progress for our athletes, but few things can prepare you for a project as challenging and exciting as this one.
“Spaceflight is a unique and demanding regime and requires a different approach. What we’ve engineered utilising our key technologies will define the future of spacewear and puts us at the forefront of this history-making event. We are grateful to Richard and the incredible team at Virgin Galactic for trusting us with this groundbreaking challenge.”
Virgin Galactic said safety was its “North Star”, and underlined the choice of materials and other key design considerations.
The spacesuits are made from lightweight flight-grade fabrics, with cushioning in elbows, knees and in the footwear, to provide safety in out-of-seat zero gravity. They are also tailored for each astronaut, and have country flags and name badges, as is tradition.
Meanwhile, temperature management is regulated by “performance fibers and knit density, mapped to the body to provide perfect warmth and moisture management, while preventing overheating or chilling”, says Under Armour.There are also training suits that will help optimise the effectiveness of astronaut preparation in the days immediately before spaceflight.
The spacewear materials have been tested in laboratory conditions. The system will also be worn by Virgin Galactic Mission Specialists on board VSS Unity’s crewed test spaceflights, prior to commercial flights, which are expected to commence in 2020. Some Virgin Galactic ticketholders have already started health tests and astronaut training at Under Armour’s headquarters in Baltimore.
Last year, to coincide with its 60th anniversary, NASA teamed up with fashion designer Heron Preston to launch a collection of streetwear clothing.
The collection features a range of jackets, hoodies, T-shirts and hats emblazoned with the classic Worm logotype used by NASA between 1976 and 1992.
“Working with NASA, the real agency that has sent people to space, to have sent people to the moon, that explores planets, this is as real as it can get,” Peston said. “That is what I’m using my platform for, to tell other stories that you don’t really hear in fashion.”