Earth-bound problems of stylish spacesuits

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Y-3 and Virgin Galactic space suit.
Y-3 and Virgin Galactic space suit.Y-3

As fact and fiction continue to hurtle toward each other, last week brought the disturbing news that Jose Fernandez — the costume designer responsible for the superhero armor from "Batman v Superman'' — has been tapped by Elon Musk to design spacesuits for the latter's private space-flight initiative, SpaceX. More disturbingly, Fernandez told the design magazine Bleep that SpaceX gave him two weeks to dream up his proposal and didn't give him any technical input: "They are now reverse-engineering [it] to make [it] functional for space flight," he said.

Fernandez has been creating Hollywood spacesuits and superhero gear for decades. (In fact, he may be the most important invisible hand in Hollywood behind the ever-increasing armament of superhero costumes, having designed everything from the nipple-embellished Batsuit of "Batman Forever" to Robert Downey Jr.'s Iron Man armor.) That doesn't necessarily make him an aerospace engineer, but that doesn't seem to be what Musk was looking for. "He wanted it to look stylish," Fernandez said of Musk. "[W]hen people put this spacesuit on, he wants them to look better than they did without it, like a tux."


It appears couture is now what's most valued in space. SpaceX's rival Virgin Galactic announced earlier this year that it had tapped Japanese fashion designer Yohji Yamamoto's brand Y-3 to design its spacesuits. His prototypes, unveiled in January, were dark and sleek — more ninja than superhero. Of course, Yamamoto isn't an aerospace engineer either, and Y-3 prototype boots were made of leather, which wasn't airtight last time we checked.

It used to be that spacesuits — derived from the bulky, utilitarian pressurized suits worn by aviators and test pilots in the early 20th century — inspired civilian culture. Remember moon boots? Rocket fins? Jumpsuits? The iMac? But we've come full circle. Now, as space flight moves into the civilian world, pop culture is dictating design: The legacy of the iPod is that we now expect technology to look cool, even when it's a life-support system. Without being too prejudicial, it's safe to say that this all sounds like a recipe for disaster in zero gravity. But at least you'll look amazing when it happens.


S.I. Rosenbaum can be reached at si@arrr.net.