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Spacesuit: Fashioning Apollo

4.14  ·  Rating details ·  182 ratings  ·  34 reviews
How the twenty-one-layer Apollo spacesuit, made by Playtex, was a triumph of intimacy over engineering.
Paperback, 364 pages
Published March 18th 2011 by MIT Press (first published 2011)
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4.14  · 
Rating details
 ·  182 ratings  ·  34 reviews

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Parts of this book were super interesting--I loved the beginning, how de Monchaux connects the early balloon flights and learning that the human body does not do well in the upper atmosphere, and the "New Look" of Dior and changes in the fashion world to why and how the space suit was eventually constructed. The parts about Mission Control and NORAD were kind of interesting as well. However, towards the end, he goes on this city planning tangent that barely feels connected to the space suit at a ...more
Feb 26, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I went in with high expectations, and I was still blown away.

Although the beginning is a little slow and seemingly disjointed, Nicholas De Moncahux is really laying the groundwork for a symbiotic set of vignettes (layers) on the spacesuit. This book is the perfect confluence of theory, structure and practice - each meditation on Rauschenberg or Chanel feels like it adds to the overall story of Playtex and the construction (fashioning) of the Apollo suits, rather than being extraneous. It's real
Dec 17, 2015 rated it it was amazing
This is a fantastic book and in the last few days I have been unable to help telling everybody about it. It's a beautiful exploration of culture and industry around the Apollo missions and the challenges involved in building a spacesuit that would allow an astronaut to walk on the moon. It weaves in science, art, feminism, business management and media studies to the topic. I was particularly excited by the information about how expert seamstresses and clothing designers integrated, with plenty ...more
Darshan Elena
Mar 29, 2013 rated it it was amazing
A fun book for nerds and geeks, Spacesuit:Fashioning Apollo provides an overview of the history and science of the spacesuit. Clever in organization and broad in scope, this book was a blast to read.
Jan 29, 2019 rated it really liked it

This book explores the history behind the space suit used for the Apollo missions and how an unconventional (for space exploration) company that manufactured girdles and bras went toe-to-toe with the top engineering and technology firms of the era for the contract to make the Apollo spacesuit - and won.

Early spacesuits were clunky and hard to move in, not very maneuverable. For extended missions of 10 hours or even a few days (such as the Moon missions), the suits were very uncomfortable to be
Oct 25, 2018 rated it liked it
Recommended to Dane by: Adam Savage
I was a little disappointed by this book. I was expecting it to be about the technical design of the suits, a literal examination of the 21 layers that it talks so much about. Instead, it tries to make a (somewhat painfully forced) point about space adapting to humans rather than humans adapting to space via a series of essays, many of which are only tangentially related to the space program. It reads more like a humanities textbook than the technical account that I was expecting.
Brian Borst
Mar 01, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: owned
This is an excellent book. Not does it give the reader a great look into the space suits used for apollo missions, it also talks of U.S. politics, and the influence of advertising and the fashion industry. It's broad and interdisciplinary, but very much recommended.
Jan 04, 2012 rated it it was amazing
A special book with a special perspective. An architect (and professor of architecture) looks at the fascinating story of how the people who made Playtex bras and girdles ended up beating out military-industrial giants to fabricate the clothing that humans wore in space and on the moon. Taking the suits' multi-layered structure as his reference point de Monchaux explores, in 21 short, extremely readable chapters, the encounter between the fragile and unique individual human (astronaut) body and ...more
Aug 03, 2011 rated it it was amazing
A record of the victory by redundancy and adaptation over systems engineering to produce the A7L spacesuit, De Monchaux's book adopts the structure of said spacesuit, resulting in 21 overlapping but essential chapters; each deals with a different aspect of the A7L story, from its competition with "harder" alternatives to its production by Playtex. Notable among these are a chapter on JFK's image consciousness, and an extensive history of early flight suits from Wiley Post to the U2.

This is an am
Unit of Raine
May 02, 2011 rated it really liked it
I enjoyed the space/NASA history, the connections to fashion, victorian ballooning (and mechanical ducks), the lovely photos and gorgeous texture (I do like good paper and softcovers). I quite enjoyed the discussion of the development of systems engineering & the ongoing successes & failures. Unfortunately, that part is a little close to home.

It was interesting to focus on the soft spacesuits and the various systems implications. I'm not sure I'm a huge fan of his drawn out conclusion,
Nov 05, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
The first, 'Spacesuit: Fashioning Apollo' is about the early USA space program, and how seamstresses of the Playtex underwear company came to make the spacesuits worn by the Apollo astronauts. It's a very interesting read, and talks about the subject in circles covering different aspects of different events that would all have a bearing on how an inexperienced (underdog) firm got the job, using their more traditional skillsets and hacking around the many problems they encountered to provide the ...more
Mar 21, 2012 rated it it was amazing
This cultural history of the development of the Apollo space suits is a fantastic book. It's written as a collection of essays, ranging from the early history of ballooning and high-altitude travel, to early 20th century daredevil pilot Wiley Post, to Christian Dior's "New Look," all the way through the birth of cybernetics, the roles of women in the US space program, and late 20th century urban planning.

I can't recommend it highly enough. Easily ranks up with (and would definitely appeal to re
Juan Martinez
Apr 26, 2012 rated it really liked it
From page 20: "Against this background, Hawthorne Gray set out in November 1927 for the last of three high-altitude flights. His craft would soar above 44,000 feet, but an accurate estimate of his breathing supply's longevity would leave Gray dead long before the balloon's landing at 5:20 p.m. 'Undoubtedly,' a posthumous award of the Distinguished Flying Cross concluded, 'his courage was greater than his supply of oxygen.'"
May 13, 2014 rated it it was ok
Strange book. The author makes many tangential detours, some are interesting and some are not. The parts about the suit, it's history, development and construction are very good and the sections on systems engineering as it relates to urban planning (still don't see the connection to the main subject) were not, at least to me.
Stephen Shapiro
An excellent, wide-ranging look at the technology, institutions, and cultural expectations surrounding the Apollo Project's A7L spacesuit. Written from a cultural studies perspective, which expands its scope to include not just spacesuits, NASA, the International Latex Company, and systems design, but also Dior's New Look and the public imagination about space flight.
Mar 27, 2011 rated it it was amazing
"In its visual vocabulary of checks and crosses, the black-and-white cathode of the GE [simulated lunar approach and landing] system is remarkable for its reduction of the lunar goal to its essence--a mastery not so much of earthly space or outer space, but of information space" (de Monchaux, pg. 175).
Living in Houston, I pick up a lot about NASA almost by osmosis. I found this book to have a really cool angle for examining the space program. I liked the layer format used in the book to look at a single object in so many different ways, and I found the writing to be clear and easy to follow. A really enjoyable scientific history book.
Aug 25, 2011 rated it really liked it
Did you know that the suits worn during the moon landing were made by the Playtex corporation, hand-sewn by seamstresses who usually worked on brassieres and girdles? This story is a fascinating combination of science and craft that reaches repeatedly for grand themes and cultural history. No book is right for everyone, but this is one that has something to offer for a wide variety of readers.
Koen Crolla
Jun 11, 2015 rated it it was ok
There is an abbreviated history of the various American space suits up through the Apollo program in here, but it's well-hidden beneath mountains and mountains of irrelevancies and aggressively pretentious, high school-level prose.
Sarah Cooper
Jul 01, 2013 rated it it was amazing
A fantastic overview of the history of flight suits, systems engineering, fashion, design, robustness, and the military-industrial complex, all circling around the story of the Apollo space suits. I learned a lot and it left me with a lot to think about.
Aug 10, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
An interesting look at the design and fabrication of the A7L and it's competitors to take man to space. This book is as complex and layered as the A7L itself and goes in a number of tangents, some having little to nothing to do with the subject.
Apr 02, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Beautiful book with a multi-disciplinary and elegantly constructed view of the space program, the era, human endeavor, and fashion. Just amazing.
Derek Lindner
Mar 03, 2014 rated it it was amazing
A unique history of space travel, latex, system thinking, women's fashion, the military industrial complex, and other tales related to the micro-architecture of spacesuits, arranged in 21 'layers'.
Apr 15, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Holy Smokes! I had no idea! This is an interesting read that I'm happy to have come across. Thanks NPR.
Feb 14, 2015 rated it it was ok
This book was really hard to read. It was about soooo much more than the spacesuit, and it read like someone's PhD dissertation... very dry and somewhat meandering. Could not recommend.
Andrew Liptak
Mar 09, 2011 rated it it was amazing
A terrific, stunning read. An absolute must for those interested in space and American history.
Jan 31, 2014 rated it really liked it
Very good.

Enjoyed the over view of the engineering "processes" and how it compared to the more artistic approach taken for the suit.
Jul 28, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: engineering
Highly recommended - a very different view of the various challenges (political, social, technological, physical) involved in sending humans into space.
Apr 16, 2013 rated it really liked it
it was fun! meditations on space and organizational structures and human hopes and dreams, and nice pictures <:]
Apr 14, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Absolutely fascinating.
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