A theatrical costume designer and a former Russian space program employee are aiming for the stars by building low-cost spacesuits that they hope will best NASA’s current design.
Ted Southern and Nikolay Moiseev have constructed two prototype spacesuits in their Gowanus studio and they’re currently working on a third that’s ready to go into orbit — but before they can blast off, they need your help.
In search of funding, the duo has cast aside the secrecy of the space race-era by using a more contemporary approach to fund-raising: Kickstarter.com.
“Not that many people are making spacesuits — and those who are, are very secretive about it,” said Southern, a Park Slope resident with a background as a costume engineer for Broadway productions like “The Little Mermaid” and “Equus.” “They’re worried about people stealing ideas. Kickstarter is open-sourced, but that’s a risk we’re taking — we wanted to be a part of the community and not hide.”
Southern, who won $100,000 from NASA in 2009 for designing an astronaut glove, and Moiseev, who worked for the Russian Federal Space Agency for about two decades and recently relocated from Moscow, are perfecting a form of outerspace garb called an intra-vehicular activity suit.
Dubbed IVA suits (one must love acronyms to love space), the orange getups are what astronauts wear while inside the shuttle.
The safety suits, which were adopted after the Challenger disaster, can be pressurized in the event of an emergency — but the current design is in need of a makeover, according to Southern.
“The old NASA suits are heavy and expensive and don’t work that well,” he said. “We see an opportunity in this field.”
NASA’s IVA suits cost around $250,000. The duo, who are working under the name Final Frontier Designs, hope theirs will go for about a fifth of that figure.
And the savings won’t stop there, Southern claims.
“Our suit weighs under 15 pounds, while the current NASA suit is about 30 pounds — which in a flight of a bunch of people could add up to over $500,000 savings in terms of fuel,” he said.
The Final Frontier Designs suit will be suitable for travel into the upper limits of the low Earth orbit, somewhere around 1,200 miles into the heavens.
Southern and Moiseev are banking on an anticipated boom in the next few years in the commercial spaceflight industry, where such suits will be mandated.
Eager outer space explorers can donate to their fund-raising campaign through July 15 — and those willing to shell out more than $10,000 can take home their own custom-built spacesuit.
Southern admits that it might make more sense to design spacesuits in Cape Canaveral or the Silicon Valley — but he says there’s no place he’d rather be than Brooklyn.
“When I tell people I make spacesuits they think I’m lying,” said Southern. “New York in general doesn’t have a very big aerospace industry, so we end up going to Houston and Palo Alto and Florida. But it is the center of the world, so it’s hard to beat being here.”
Even in Gowanus, where creative craftsmen are making everything from cutting edge art to homemade beer, the locals are surprised that space engineers are toiling in the lofts around them.
“That’s probably at the more extreme end of people doing stuff down here, but that’s awesome,” said Scott Albrecht, a woodworker and painter who was burning wood planks near the building that houses Final Frontier Designs. “Then again for Gowanus that kind of makes sense.”
Reach reporter Eli Rosenberg at [email protected] or by calling (718) 260-2531. And follow him at twitter.com/emrosenberg.