When Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin stepped onto the lunar surface in July of 1969, they wore spacesuits made by Playtex: 21 layers of fabric, each with a distinct yet interrelated function, custom-sewn for them by seamstresses whose usual work was fashioning bras and girdles. This book is the story of that spacesuit. It is a story of the triumph over the military-industrial complex by the International Latex Corporation, best known by its consumer brand of "Playtex" - a victory of elegant softness over engineered hardness, of adaptation over cybernetics.
Playtex's spacesuit went up against hard armor-like spacesuits designed by military contractors and favored by NASA's engineers. It was only when those attempts failed - when traditional engineering firms could not integrate the body into mission requirements - that Playtex, with its intimate expertise, got the job.
In Spacesuit, Nicholas de Monchaux tells the story of the 21-layer spacesuit in 21 chapters addressing 21 topics relevant to the suit, the body, and the technology of the 20th century. He touches, among other things, on 18th-century androids, Christian Dior's New Look, Atlas missiles, cybernetics and cyborgs, latex, JFK's carefully cultivated image, the CBS lunar broadcast soundstage, NASA's Mission Control, and the applications of Apollo-style engineering to city planning. The 21-layer spacesuit, de Monchaux argues, offers an object lesson. It tells us about redundancy and interdependence and about the distinctions between natural and man-made complexity; it teaches us to know the virtues of adaptation and to see the future as a set of possibilities rather than a scripted scenario.
©2011 Massachusetts Institute of Technology (P)2014 Audible Inc.
I'm Audible's first Editor-at-Large, the host of In Bed with Susie Bright -- and a longtime author, editor, journo, and bookworm. I listen to audio when I'm cooking, playing cards, knitting, going to bed, waking up, driving, and putting other people's kids to bed! My favorite audiobooks, ever, are: "True Grit" and "The Dog of the South."
We are all so inured to the image of the Apollo 11 astronauts in their puffy marshmallow-man space suits, that we forget what sensational achievements those suits were. This is the story of how the elegant, but ultimately impractical designs of military industry were defeated by Playtex, makers of women’s undergarments, the people who knew how to fashion fit.
Anyone looking for the irony in history here’s your audiobook. It’s filled with moments of deep moral inquiry juxtaposed with the absurd.
These twenty-one essays, fascinating and funny, describe the suit and its evolution from fashion, manufacture, the absurd things expected of earth-evolved human bodies in outer space, the space race, and more.
Bronson Pinchot catches all the dry humor in the book and gives a truly entertaining reading of the many passages like the following,
“Once agreed upon, the only problem came with sizing the most intimate part of the suit assembly, the urinary collection device (UCD) that slid over the astronaut’s penis. After an “incident” with the first astronaut fitted for the device, the UCD’s designations were changed from ‘Small, Medium, Large’ to ‘Large, Extra Large,’ and ‘Extra-Extra Large.’”
Well, now we know.
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