About a week ago, SpaceX successfully launched its first Falcon Heavy booster. The private aerospace company may now claim ownership of the most powerful rocket, launched from the same site in Florida that was used for NASA’s Apollo missions. As much as it was a successful flight, the rocket’s second stage sent the rocket’s payload (a Tesla Roadster carrying a mannequin named “Starman”) into an orbit beyond the orbit of Mars, which was intended, the company says.
Still impressive, but SpaceX is not taking much of a breather. The Hawthorne, Calif.-based company has been making unmanned deliveries to the International Space Station for NASA for some time, and in 2014 put on the schedule to fly American astronauts to the station. Whether or not that will happen this year is uncertain, but there’s no question that the space program—and its government and private enterprise partnerships—have long-range plans to move deeper into space.
There’s no government agency with quite the caché of NASA’s, in my opinion. That could be, in part, because I remember driving out to the edge of town with my dad to see Sputnik—a small, pulsing ball of light that zipped across the sky. I was too young to have a clue what it was doing up there (or grasp much about the international “Space race”), but I understood that it was extraordinary. Years later, “Man walks on the moon” was touted by a journalist colleague as the prime example of how to write a headline. (You have to admit that it says it all.)
Although these days NASA sends astronauts to work in Space for weeks at a time in the International Space Station, this—and its other missions—are hardly routine. You undoubtedly realize that textiles have had a critical role to play in the success of the Space program. (You can find a number of examples in articles on this site.) But this month we’re more interested in moving the relationship between NASA and the textile industry forward. Way forward. To Mars, in fact.
NASA needs the advanced textiles industry now more than ever, and the agency is anxious to work with manufacturers who want to be a part of its exciting future. Read that last sentence one more time, will you? This isn’t marketing-speak. NASA really wants you! Although it might seem like NASA is too “out there” for whatever it is your company does, I suggest you reconsider that. NASA needs t-shirts, for example. They have some unique requirements, but who wouldn’t want a t-shirt that doesn’t shed lint and won’t absorb body odor? Many products in the past that were developed for NASA have found their way into consumer markets. This sounds like a good one to me.
Because textiles can be engineered for highly specialized uses, and because they are (generally) very lightweight, textiles are the go-to for many uses on a spacecraft. Acoustical treatments, storage, bedding and clothing are some examples. A new spacesuit, which has not changed dramatically in years, has been under intense development for some time, and although a new prototype was announced in 2014, research continues.
No need to settle for my ideas, though. Read our new feature, “In search of deep space textiles,” for useful information coming directly from those who work for and with NASA. Companies willing to make a longer-term commitment could have quite literally the opportunity of a lifetime.