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The real Martians

January 8th, 2016 / By: / My Take

Members of NASA’s materials team were on hand at IFAI’s Expo last fall–and with good reason. The agency needs the textiles industry to reach their goal of a manned mission to Mars sometime in the 2030s. In fact, Evelyne Orndoff told her audience in her keynote address, “We can’t do it without you!” She is with the Textiles and Non-Metallic Materials, Crew and Thermal Systems Division, at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas.

Her statement seems like it would have companies all up and down the supply chain lining up to do business with NASA, but unfortunately circumstances have changed dramatically since the “Soaring 60’s” when the “space race” began. There was a time, Orndoff told me later, that the U.S. government provided enough support for large corporations to undertake extensive research projects to create just the right solutions for spacecraft and travelers. Realistically, how else could a company afford to manufacture six pairs of gloves with custom-engineered fabrics to be worn by the astronauts on one mission?

The level of government support now dictates a new modus operandi; that technology and know-how is going to have to have a much broader customer base in today’s market—or some other means to justify the end on the balance sheet.

Although the popularity of the movie “The Martian” has certainly drawn attention to current space exploration efforts, it didn’t necessarily offer accurate information. A NASA team member pointed out that there isn’t enough gravity on Mars for the movie’s inciting incident (a projectile piercing an astronaut’s spacesuit and stabbing him in the gut) to even be possible. Never mind. The film is entertaining, champions science and provides added visibility for NASA’s wish list.

Even if you attended Orndoff’s keynote speech at Expo, you’ll find more good information about NASA’s relationship with the industry, historically, and additional details about what the agency needs now in her article, “Textiles in space.” You might be amazed by just how many textiles are needed for everything from acoustic treatments and covers, to the many layers of the new spacesuit, to sleepwear for the crew.

There might be an opportunity for you to participate in making history.