Ever since the first US space program, astronauts have had to wear the best in clothing that man has ever produced. Surviving inside a spacecraft is much simpler and yet it requires the use of modern day textile.
Let’s go back to the early Gemini and Mercury space missions that used pressured suits with thermal and fire protection at best. The missions lasted no more than 4 hours and astronauts only wore long underwear beneath the pressure suit. Over time, the underwear used Trilok waffle-weave for better ventilation and with the Gemini project as the flight duration grew so did the need for new features such as waste management and thermal comfort. The textiles now had to include some amount of bio-instrumentation and communicative devices too.
Now that man plans to visit Mars, which is more 3 months than 3 days’ mission, the need of the hour is to produce textiles for the deathly cold of outer space. This cutting edge fabric and material must not just withstand the vacuum and minus degree cold but also protect astronauts from debris moving near terminal velocity as well as cosmic radiation that makes it impossible for life to grow on any planet without an atmosphere. In other words, the choice of fabrics used must somehow simulate a tiny earth inside the spacesuit so as to keep an astronaut alive and healthy throughout the Mars mission.
The textile industry and research into better textile weaves, patterns, combinations have since the first Apollo missions been on overdrive. Naturally, using new age materials is a part of innovation but mass production is never the incentive in this industry and this makes it difficult for individual textile makers to go into research or even innovation. Thankfully, though the developments in previous missions for both space crafts and spacesuits has helped improve the field of technical textile, which is slowly making its way into the realm of everyday wear.
Take for instance the use of Cordura or ripstop Nylon in bags, biking accessories, mountaineering wear and the likes. Implementing Teflon as a fabric, carbon fiber reinforcement and even Kevlar in layers are all part of regular everyday fashion and high performance wear.
It is only natural that the developments egged on by the Mars race will introduce yet more advanced fabric and textile designs, innovations which ultimately will trickle down to everyday consumers over the next half century.