PhilaU students are tailors to the ‘stars’

Philadelphia University seniors Cassandra Burr, left, Julia Mayer, center, and Gabriela Carosa, helped design a new spacesuit in collaboration with NASA. Credit: Charles Mostoller/METRO
Philadelphia University seniors Cassandra Burr, left, Julia Mayer, center, and Gabriela Carosa, helped design a new spacesuit in collaboration with NASA. Credit: Charles Mostoller/METRO

Three 20-year-old women designed the new look of the NASA spacesuit in classrooms at Philadelphia University.

Sorry? Betsy Ross, who?

ILC Dover, a Delaware-based engineering firm that works with NASA, is the main contractor tapped to completely redesign the inner workings of astronaut suits. And they turned to PhilaU for help to design the outside.

“(ILC) are doing everything for the suit,” said Muthu “Govin” Govindaraj, engineering professor at PhilaU. “And they wanted to add the aesthetic sense to it to make it more pleasing and… you need something that looks good.”

ILC officials chose three victors: Cassandra Burr, 21, a senior majoring in fashion design from Burlington, N.J.; Julia Mayer, 23, a senior majoring in mechanical engineering from Quakertown; and Gabriela Canosa, 22, a senior majoring in fashion design from Lancaster.

Headstrong and confident, the three knew their job: make the suits look cool.

“It was really different talking to (NASA designers) because they think totally different from us,” Burr said. “They’re more technology, and we’re more about the customer and how we speak to the customer and so it was different translating our goals into their goals.”

But the design was essentially function first, fashion second.

“It was difficult for us because everything that we designed had to be functional,” Canosa said.

Mayer added: “Each part of the suit has specific components so they had to design around each section of the suit.”

They condensed their ideas for NASA’s Z-2 space suit into three concepts: Biomimicry, Technology and Trends in Society. NASA is letting the public decide which design to use. Voting ends at midnight on April 15. NASA will announce the winner this month and a prototype will be available by the fall.

The goal here, of course, is to give the astronauts new duds as they explore the deeper recesses of space. So, aspects of Earth were incorporated into the suit. There’s a bluish tone and also reptile to represent a dry and arid Mars.

But, here’s a lingering thought: How does one make a suit for both men and women?

Burr quipped: “You don’t go with pink or purple.”


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