Everything about SpaceX seems exciting right now. In April, SpaceX successfully landed their reusable rocket, the Falcon 9, on a droneship at sea. Also in April, SpaceX announced that they intend to send a Dragon capsule to Mars by 2018. Now, Elon Musk’s private space company has hired Jose Fernandez, superhero movie costume designer, to design spacesuits for his astronauts.
Fernandez, with his company Ironhead Studio, has quite a resume when it comes to costume design. He’s designed superhero costumes for movies like Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice and Captain America: Civil War. He’s also designed costumes for X-Men movies, for Wonder Woman, Tron, and for The Penguin in Batman Returns.
Spacesuits have been slaves to function for a long time. The extreme environments in space have constrained their design to utilitarian forms, out of necessity. But now that Elon Musk has hired Fernandez, things could change. Considerably.
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Whatever designs Fernandez comes up with, they will still have to have functionality as their primary concern. There’s no escaping that. But having someone with excellent visual design skills will certainly spice things up.
SpaceX had four other companies working on bids for this design work, but in the end it was Fernandez that won. This is no surprise given Fernandez’ long track record of making great costumes for superheroes. Over a twenty year span, he has also created costumes for Wolverine, Spiderman, The Fantastic Four, and Thor. That is an enviable collection of designs.
It will be super interesting to see what Fernandez comes up with, and how design will meld with engineering requirements to create a safe, effective spacesuit. After all, the people wearing them won’t be actors, and they will require the absolute best performance possible.
Purists may scoff at having someone from Hollywood involved in spacesuit design. After all, this is serious business. The surface of Mars is not a movie set, it’s a dangerous, alien world. But there’s no telling what Fernandez will come up with. If his success in movie costumes is any indication, he might convert any nay-sayers into supporters.
The ESA and NASA are also working on new spacesuit designs. The video below is a good discussion of spacesuit design. Compare the blocky, clunky look of the first spacesuits to what astronauts now use.